L' Ecritoire

Location: Sacramento, California

I am a retired lawyer and administrative law judge, aged but active, with a variety of interests.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Adieu, an Imagined Letter from François Villon


5 January 1463

Dr. Guillaume de Villon
Église de Saint-Benoît-le-Bétourné
Rue Saint-Jacques

Most Revered Father,

You will have heard from your sources of the mitigation
of my sentence of death by the gibbet to exile from the City,
equivalent to my demise by inches. That judgement, although
rendered by a secular court I had hoped would be more just
than the known venality of the chancellery of your friend the
Bishop, has proved to me - again - the folly of expecting that
anything but injustice will be meted to the likes of your
adopted son. I am no criminal, despite the law’s success in
showing otherwise. You know well the catalog of crimes which
society has visited upon me, beginning with the prejudices
which I have suffered of the Church and its offices, the law
and its institutions, and the well-born and their minions, because
I am base-born, although possessed of the degree of master of
arts and undeniable genius. Those religious who knew me best,
and you are in that company, although recognizing my worth,
proved friends of fair weather, failing to understand the
temptations to which a student at the Sorbonne was exposed,
companions who proved to be bad, and women of the street.
That I killed a priest is a fact, but that he invited his own death
is equally true. The matter of the theft, so-called, of the five
hundred gold écus of the College of Navarre was vastly overblown,
and I had agreed to repay the faculty, as you well know. As to
the Coquillards, I became associated with them only by chance,
which would not have offered but for the necessity of fleeing the
City to escape the Provost’s officers in the matter of the aforesaid
Père Sermaise. But I have written nothing not known to you.

Know this, however: you, who failed to understand my needs,
and Thibault d’Aussigny, the tyrant Bishop of Orléans, who
imprisoned me in Meung-sur-Loire with scant cause, and Robert
d’Estouteville, the corrupt Provost of Paris, who persecuted me,
share equally in the crime of destroying one who, believing in his
merit, aspired to nothing but the pleasures which come to you by
virtue of your birth.

Having set the record right, I bid thee adieu.

François Villon, né Montcorbier

-James M. Moose

Poem, Swells


With feudal roots, from a time
before the Conquest,
the landed aristocracy in 1880
was still God's elect,

the wealthiest, and most powerful
segment of the population
of the British Isles,
owned four-fifths of the land,

dominated government
at all levels, controlled
the House of Commons
as well as the House of Lords.

Their offspring filled
the upper ranks of
the Army, the Church and
the Civil Service.

But the electorate
was enlarged,
landowners were taxed,
financial pressures grew.

The landed classes
‘proved themselves’
in the Great War, but
‘vanished in blood and fire.’

The honors system changed:
in London, one could not
‘throw a stone at a dog
and fail to hit a knight.’

Lloyd George, aristocracy’s
implacable enemy,
remarked that its place
in history will be

‘like the scent on a
pocket handkerchief,’
but its history is largely
Great Britain’s history.

-James M. Moose

Poem, Cape Horn Incident

Cape Horn Incident

The Grace Harwar, short-handed, full-rigged ship,
sunk scupper-deep with Aussie grain, had borne
a weight of storm so wroth we scarcely knew
that she would live, as we approached Cape Horn.
A dame of forty years, with only hand
machinery, she had no steam or heat.
A falling spar had killed a man two days
before, and made our misery complete.

As night was coming on, a heavy sea
swept youthful Jaakko Sjöberg overboard.
The helmsman threw the wheel hard down, and brought
the vessel, shiv’ring, to the wind and toward
the place the boy was seen to grasp the ring
thrown out thereat his parting shriek was heard.
We would not yield Cape Horn another man,
and all our vessel’s meager crew bestirred!

We’d lashed our boats against the stormy sea,
with davit tackle blocks unroved, so straight
with frenzied speed we rove new rope, and set
a boat afloat, six oarsmen and the mate,
the Frenchman in his underwear and John
still stiff and sick, and all in train to freeze.
We dropped astern, and presently we lost
the ship in failing light and roiling seas.

We feared to lose ourselves, as happened in
a case we knew, but pulled about and guessed
where he’d be found. At length, a miracle!
When we had thought to quit, atop a crest
three troughs away we saw his bobbing head.
The while, it seems, the ship had us in sight,
and now ran slowly down as we retrieved
a living boy, and foiled Cape Horn aright!

-James M. Moose

Poem, The Eviction of the Copahs

The Eviction of the Copahs

the heading of an article in the June 14,
1903 edition of the New York Times.

“No more pathetic scenes
have been witnessed anywhere,”
the piece begins, describing

the eviction of the Copah band
“who, from time immemorial,
had dwelt on Warner’s Ranch,”

an Eden blessed with thermal
springs and advertised today
to be “a legendary resort.”

Their removal flowed
from the order of
our nation’s highest court

affirming swindles wrought
upon these guileless Indians
by scheming Mexicans, sly Yankees

and Holy Mother Church,
strong adherents all
to the icon Rule of Law.

–James M. Moose

Saturday, March 11, 2006

America The Beautiful, a poem

The pause between
“His grace on thee” and
“and crown thy good”

calls for the chord, G7.
A common G is struck with “thee,”
is struck again with “crown,”

but there’s magic in between:
the triad G expands to add
one note (an F), becomes

a “dominant seventh,”
exceeds its own dimensions
in that special space, and

enlivened by my fingertips,
explodes with wondrous power,
inducing salty tears.

James M. Moose

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Red Memory, a poem

Red Memory

Ensconced within my brain
there is a shard of memory,
a rounded daub of redness
sculpt in high relief, indelible,
its permanence achieved

by means beyond my ken,
but pertinent, I think,
to nature’s plan
for everlasting life -
and long may it persist!

Its vivid female shape,
encased in bathing dress
above Cayuga’s lake,
found my eye but once,
on a sultry summer day

as I was bussed away
to war, the author
of the image and her fate
never known to me,
as that one surely

never knew the force
her form transferred to me.

James M. Moose

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Elegy on Gordon Barber, a poem by Gene Derwood


On Gordon Barber, Lamentably
Drowned in his Eighteenth Year

When in the mirror of a permanent tear
Over the iris of your mother’s eye
I beheld the dark tremor of your face, austere
With space of death, spun too benign for youth,
Icicle of the past to pierce her living sigh –
I saw you wish the last kiss of mother’s mouth,
Who took the salted waters rather in the suck
Of seas, sighing yourself to fill and drench
With water the plum-rich glory of your breast
Where beat the heart escaping from war’s luck.

Gordon, I mourn your wrist, your running foot,
Your curious brows, your thigh, your unborn daughters,
Yet mourn more deep the drought-caught war dry boy
Who goes, a killer, to join you in your sleep
And envy you what made you blench
Taking your purple back to drought-less waters.
What choke of terror filled you in the wet
What fierce surprise caught you when play turned fate
And all the rains you loved became your net,
Formlessly yielding, yet stronger than your breath?
Then did you dream of mother or hopes hatched
When the cold cramp held you from nape to foot
And time dissolved, promise dissolved, in Death?
Did you cry ‘cruel’ to all the hands that stretched
Not near, but played afar, when you sank down
Your sponge of lungs hurt to the quick
Till you had left the quick to join the dead,
Whom now, your mother mourns grief-sick.
You were too young to drown.

Never will you take bride to happy bed,
Who lay awash in water yet no laving
Needed, so pure so young for sudden leaving.

Gone, gone is Gordon, tall and brilliant lad
Whose mind was science. Now hollow his skull
A noble sculpture, is but sunken bone,
His cells from water come by water laid
Grave-deep, to water gone.
Lost, lost the hope he had
Washed to a cipher his splendour and his skill.

But Gordon’s gone, it’s other boys who live afraid.

Two years, and lads have grown to hold a gun.
In dust must splendid lads go down and choke,
Red dry their hands and dry their one day’s sun
From which they earthward fall to fiery tomb
Bomb-weighted, from bloodying children’s hair.

Never a boy but takes as cross Cain’s crime
And goes to death by making death, to pass
Death’s gate distorted with the dried brown grime –
Better the watery death than death by air
Or death by sand
Where fall hard fish of fear
Loud in unwetted dust.

Spun on a lucky wave, O early boy!
Now ocean’s fish you are
As heretofore.
Perhaps you had sweet mercy’s tenderness
To win so soon largesse of choice
That you, by grace, went gayly to the wave
And all our mourning should be to rejoice.

Gene Derwood (1909-1954)

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Beergonauts

The life of a sailor has been hard in all times and climes. Samuel Johnson, the English lexicographer and wit, said that it was like "being in a jail with a chance of being drowned." The crew of a vessel of the U.S. Navy in the far Western Pacific in wartime 1944 would not disagree with that assessment.They felt their imprisonment most keenly in being deprived of the company of women, but another, and almost as serious a deprivation, was the ban on alcohol aboard ship. By statute, the American navy was, and is, "dry." By contrast, ships of the Royal Navy at that time meted out rum to their enlisted personnel, and their officers' messes were allowed unlimited spirits, and typically furnished a variety of liquors.

Officers of American naval vessels suffered less than enlisted personnel because there were officers clubs in even the most advanced bases, and on those occasions when ships came to anchor the officers usually found their way very quickly to these establishments, most of which supplied a number of forms of ardent spirits, and occasionally even aged scotch whisky. The commanding officer of my own ship, a four-striper, was suspected, probably not without justice, of maintaining - and replenishing - his own private stock of booze, as he was observed always to carry a small satchel on leaving and returning to the ship. ("What’s the Old Man got in that bag, do you suppose? A change of skivvies? Bullshit!")

The fate of the officers’ enlisted subordinates was, alas, less happy. They were sent ashore to drink beer, but on occasions less frequent, and in circumstances less congenial. Milne Bay and Finschhafen, names which appeared on charts of the eastern coasts of New Guinea, and whose existence depended as much on that fact as on other physical evidence, could not be characterized as pleasure resorts, however vivid the surrounding greenery. Ulithi Atoll, a place comporting with pre-war impressions of the South Sea Islands, but now uninhabited except for very transient American naval personnel, was the rare exception, but even that lovely isle was found lacking. ("We got some shade here, and it ain’t too hot, but I don’t see no hula girls. Wouldn’t you know they’d move the women out!")

The Rest and Recreation people who provided the beer-drinking venues for enlisted personnel did not always supply the beer. As a matter of practice, many vessels were required to carry their own supplies of beer, which were struck below immediately upon being received to an inviolable cargo space, against the time when opportunity (regrettably rare)allowed the crew to visit a beach,not too close to the operations of the Japanese enemy, to consume some of it. Thus it was that the writer, then a buck ensign, was placed in charge of an expedition which was to pick up several hundred cases of beer from a supply dump on Guadalcanal, across Iron Bottom Sound from our ship's anchorage near Florida Island. My command was a 36-foot LCVP landing craft with a crew of two (a coxswain and a bowhook) and a four-man working party headed by a boatswain's mate second class. The ship's navigator showed me my outward course on a chart and pointed to a distant peak as a landmark. ("Tell your coxswain he can steer for the highest point in that ridge, which is Mount something-or-other. Would you believe it’s over 8,000 feet?")

Our outward voyage was uneventful: the sea was flat, our landmark in clear view, and our progress rapid. The Gray marine diesel engine functioned perfectly, and we arrived at our destination about three hours after our departure, having traveled perhaps twenty nautical miles. The always surprising and enterprising SeaBees had constructed a regular pier, although without some of the usual appurtenances, and to this we moored our small vessel. The loading of our cargo from a nearby warehouse took almost as much time as the outward leg of voyage, the several hundred cases of beer requiring transportation to the pier, and then careful stowage.("How come you got this Hudepohl and Iron City horse piss? They put embalming fluid in it!
Whatever happened to Pabst Blue Ribbon?)

When our full allotment was finally stowed and we were ready to depart, it suddenly dawned on me that our craft might not be seaworthy, its draft having increased a good three feet. Indeed, the remaining freeboard was so slight that I expressed my apprehension about leaving the dock with the full load. My crew made it quite clear, however, that despite this perilous condition, they would take it badly if I left even a single case behind. ("You officers don’t have to drink this shit, but it’s the only booze the crew can get! And when are we gonna be able to get some more?")

Against my better judgment - but taking into account my future relations with the ship's enlisted personnel - we set out upon the return leg of the voyage with the full lading. We discovered almost immediately that the sea state had changed, and that our flat, plain-green sea was now all swells and whitecaps. Our craft was sluggish in its forward progress, because of the sea state and the heavy lading, and began to roll and pitch rather ominously. The possibility of foundering, which I had foreseen at the dock, now seemed likely and even imminent. I was also concerned that we might not reach the ship before dark. We had no landmark to steer by, and relied upon our compass, our heading being the reciprocal of our outward course. Spray began to break across our bow and we were quickly wet to the skin. I feared that even the smallest sea breaking over our gunwales would cause us to founder, and I suggested that we should jettison some of our cargo. Indications of incipient mutiny persuaded me of the unwisdom of such a course. ("If we don’t bring back a full load our name is gonna be mud! Yours, too, Mister Moose! Yours, especially!") Thus, we persevered, arriving at the ship as darkness fell, and to the cheers of many of the crew, who were on the fo’c’sle waiting for the movie to begin.

That we completed our voyage without foundering, or losing so much as a single case of beer to the sea, seemed to me at the time – and seems even now, almost sixty years later – a miracle of the first order. But whether or not one can attribute the successful issue of this undertaking to the supernatural, one thing is certain: although I did not become a hero with the crew, neither did my name become mud – not completely. ("Ensign Moose wanted to deep six the whole load when it got rough. You can thank Blackie Coan and Red O’Haire for talking him out of it. If we hadn’t been along, this old bucket would be fresh out of beer!")

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Reincarnation, A Poem by Wallace MacRae


In a while, the grass'll grow upon yer rendered mound,
Til some day on yer moldered grave, a lonely flower is found;

And say a hoss should wander by and graze upon this flower,
That once wuz you, but now's become yer vegetative bower;

The posey that the hoss done ate up, with his other feed,
Makes bone and fat and muscle, essential to the steed;

But some is left that he can't use and so it passes through,
And finally lays upon the ground, this thing that once wuz you;

Then say, by chance, I wanders by and sees this upon the ground,
And I ponders and I wonders at this object that I found;

I thinks of reincarnation, of life and death, and such,
And come away concludin' ......

Slim, you ain't changed all that much.

by Wallace MacRae
(known as the "Cowboy Poet Laureate")

Friday, February 11, 2005

History of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau

The Story of Jean Baptiste

By Miki Meek [National Geographic]

Among the sagebrush, dust, and cattle ranches in Oregon's eastern high desert lies the final resting place of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau—the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition who, as an infant, trekked across the West with his mother, Sacagawea.

Although the grave site is far from the actual expedition trail, thousands of curious enthusiasts are expected to take a detour to it in Danner during the expedition's bicentennial, which begins this year and runs until 2006, and pay homage to what physical evidence remains of Jean Baptiste's life. Like his iconic mother, he left virtually nothing behind and what little historians know about him comes not from his own hand but from the journal entries of others.

It was Capt. Meriwether Lewis who penned Jean Baptiste's entry into the world at Fort Mandan in North Dakota. On February 11, 1805, Sacagawea began a labor that was "tedious and the pain violent." To hasten the birth, a rattlesnake's rattle was crushed and fed to Sacagawea with water.

"Whether this medicine was truly the cause or not I shall not undertake to determine, but I was informed that she had not taken it more than ten minutes," Lewis wrote, before Sacagawea was "delivered of a fine boy" at about 5 p.m.

On the Road

Fifty-five days later, Jean Baptiste was with his mother and on the trail with 32 other members of the Corps of Discovery members, including his father, Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trapper who served as an interpreter. Their 16-month journey, some 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) to the shore of the Pacific Ocean near the mouth of Oregon's Columbia River and back, took them through fierce terrain in the face of starvation, dangerous weather, and sickness.

On June 29, 1805, Jean Baptiste and his mother were caught in a flood near some waterfalls in present-day Great Falls, Montana, and saved by William Clark, who pushed them up a hill to safety. Less then a year later on their journey home, the child encountered more danger when he became seriously ill.

"The Child was very restless last night it's jaw and back of its neck is much more Swelled than it was yesterday," wrote Clark on May 24, 1806, while he and the other Corps of Discovery members waited out the deep snow on the Lolo Trail in Montana's Bitterroot Mountains. To remedy what might have been tonsillitis, mumps, or even teething, Clark applied onions, beeswax, and bear oil to the one-and-a-half-year-old's neck. Two weeks later, he recovered.
By this time Clark had developed a deep fondness for the toddler. He named landmarks after him and affectionately called him Pomp, or Pompy. East of Billings, Montana, he dubbed a tall, flat-topped sandstone formation imprinted with Native American pictographs Pompy's Tower, today called Pompey's Pillar, and a nearby stream became Baptiests Creek.

A Promise Half-Fulfilled

In August 1806, after completing the expedition, Jean Baptiste and his family were left at the Mandan villages on the upper Missouri River. But it was not without sorrow on Clark's part. In a letter dated August 20, 1806, to Jean Baptiste's father, Toussaint, Clark wrote: "As to your little Son (my boy Pomp) you well know my fondness for him andmy anxiety to take and raise him as my own child. I once more tell you if youwill bring your son Baptiest to me I will educate him and treat him as my ownchild. . .Wishing you and your family great suckcess & with anxious expectationsof seeing my little danceing boy Baptiest I shall remain your Friend."

It would be three more years until Clark got his wish, but it would be one half-fulfilled. By 1809 the Charbonneaus finally took up Clark's offer and brought their son to St. Louis to enroll him in school.

After Jean Baptiste's mother left for Fort Manuel, a trading post on the Missouri River, in 1811, he never saw her again. Jean Baptiste eventually received news of her death, which most historians believe was in 1812, and his father was erroneously presumed dead after he couldn't be located (Toussaint, away on a fur-trapping expedition at the time, lived into his eighties). Clark signed on as the boy's legal guardian, but he never raised him as his own.

By the time the Charbonneaus arrived in St. Louis, Clark had returned to the city and started a family of his own. He put up Baptiste in a boarding house and enrolled him in a school for half-Native American boys, paying for his tuition, lodging, and other needs. Some historians suggest that Clark's wife may not have welcomed the idea of taking a boy with mixed blood into her home.

Sometime between 1820 and 1823 Jean Baptiste left school and became a guide and interpreter at a trading post near the mouth of the Kansas River. But his time there was brief. In June 1823, at 18 years of age, he met Prince Duke Paul Wilhelm of Wrttemberg, Germany, who was on a scientific expedition in the U.S., studying plants and animals. The two talked and agreed that Jean Baptiste would return with him to Europe.

Life Abroad

Jean Baptiste spent the next five years living in a German palace and may have traveled around Europe with Duke Paul. He is reported to have played violin with Beethoven and was said to be a favorite of European royalty. However, these details are largely speculative. Findings by German researcher Monika Firla show that his life may not have been as leisurely as some have painted it. Like many German nobleman, Duke Paul brought back servants from his trips abroad, which included two Africans and a mestizo from Mexico. They were on call to serve and instruct him about their cultures.

Surviving letters and records of the Mexican servant, Johann (Juan) Alvarado, may offer some insight into Jean Baptiste's life abroad with the duke. Alvarado had some luxuries such as jewelry, silk, and schoolbooks that showed his basic education in geography, history, and arithmetic. He also claimed to earn a high enough wage to put aside savings. But when the prince went on a trip to Africa, Alvarado had no choice but to accompany him and was placed in situations that almost led to his death.

"Both Charbonneau and Alvarado led confined lives in Germany," wrote retired English professor Albert Furtwangler in the Winter 2001 Oregon Historical Quarterly. "For all their moderate comforts, they depended on the favor of the duke. They were at his command, afraid of his displeasure, surrounded by his realm, and with little prospect of marriage or independence."

Although Jean Baptiste may have not married while in the duke's service, he did father a child, born on February 20, 1829, with an unmarried German woman, according to recent research by Firla. Listed on baptismal records in Bad Mergentheim as Anton Fries, his parents are noted as "Johann Baptist Charbonnau of St. Louis 'called the American in the service of Duke Paul of this place and Anastasia Katharina Fries, unmarried daughter of the late Georg Fries, a soldier here.'" The child died three months later, after which Jean Baptiste left for the United States.

New Frontiers

Fluent in French, German, Spanish, and English, Jean Baptiste returned to St. Louis with the duke in December 1829, and the two parted company. He was 24 years old and he was about to embark on a life vastly different from the one he lived in Europe.

Starting out as a trapper with John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company, he would go on to become a guide, interpreter, miner, and adventurer in the West over the next few decades, working with famous mountain men such as James Bridger, Kit Carson, and James Beckwourth. Rufus B. Sage, a traveler who met Jean Baptiste in 1842 at a camp on the Platte River, made this observation:

"The camp was under the direction of a half-breed, named Chabonard, who provedto be a gentleman of superior information . . . Having visited most of theimportant places, both in England, France, and Germany, he knew how to turn hisexperience to good advantage.There was a quaint humor and shrewdness in his conversation, so garbed with intelligence and perspicuity, that he at once insinuated himself into the good graces of listeners, and commanded their admiration and respect. "

Two years later, William Boggs, son of the Missouri governor, recorded an encounter at Bent's Fort with the "small papoose, or half-breed of the elder Charbenau that was employed by the Lewis and Clark expedition." He reports that "it was said that Charbenau" was the "best man on foot on the plains or in the Rocky Mountains."

So good in fact, that in 1846 he helped guide the Mormon Battalion from present-day Santa Fe, New Mexico, to San Diego, California. Over the more than 600-mile (1,000-kilometer) trek, Jean Baptiste traveled ahead of the group to hunt game, scout trails, and occasionally leave messages on sticks that read, "No water. Charbonneau" when things looked dry.

After Jean Baptiste safely guided the battalion to their destination, he took office in 1847 as an alcalde—an administrative and judicial official—at San Luis Rey Mission. However, he resigned in 1848. An official report explained that Jean Baptiste had "done his duty to the best of his ability, but being a half-breed Indian of the U.S. is regarded by the people as favoring the Indians more than he should do, and hence there is much complaint against him."

How much—or even whether—Jean Baptiste favored local Native Americans is not known, but it's possible that he abhorred the practice of locals who sold them alcohol, then forced them into servitude when they could not pay their debt.

The End of the Trail

Leaving Southern California behind, Jean Baptiste traveled north to the Sacramento Valley. Although he never struck it rich, he stayed in the region for many years, shifting from an old mining camp to a clerk job at the Orleans Hotel in Auburn, California. Word of newly discovered goldfields eventually spurred him on to territory from his childhood—Montana, the home of his mother's birth tribe, the Shoshone.

At 61 years of age, Jean Baptiste and two companions headed out to find their fortunes, but he found trouble instead. Jean Baptiste contracted pneumonia after crossing Oregon's icy Owyee River. His companions carried him to Inskip Station in Danner, where he died on May 16, 1866. "Charbonneau died while still exploring new territories, still prospecting, still on the move, as the last active bachelor-adventurer of the Corps of Discovery," says author and historian Albert Furtwangler. In a sense, Jean Baptiste's tombstone in Jordan Valley marks the true end of the Lewis and Clark trail.

"The reported discoveries of gold in Montana, and the rapid peopling of the Territory, excited the imagination of the old trapper, and he determined to return to the scenes of his youth," read Charbonneau's obituary in Auburn's Placer Herald on July 7, 1866. "Though strong of purpose, the weight of the years was too much for the hardships of the trip undertaken, and now he sleeps alone by the bright waters of the Owyhee."