(Leon Youngblood lives in Texas but says his heart is in LeFlore County, where he owns land and plans to move in a few years. His stories are a mixture of fiction and non-fiction involving people and events in and around Briar Circle, a community in the Ouachita mountains in Leflore County. The names are changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike, and to prevent my reputation from being soiled by associating with some of them. His column appears on Wednesday)
By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
Nate L. Cleft, attorney, is aperson I neither like or dislike, but simply take as is. I will say, he fits the stereotype for lawyers; and if there is a standard for this stereotype, he seems to consciously endeavor to surpass it.
He’s a weekend fixture at Briar Circle, however, so when he came by our cabin, I wondered if it was merely to say, “Hello,” or if I was going to be sued for something or other, for he looked like he wanted something.
Sure enough, after the typical sorts of greeting, he asked, “Are you familiar with Edgar A. Guest?”
“The poet?” I said. “A little.”
“This is a poem of his titled, It Couldn’t Be Done. Listen.” He retrieved a sheet of paper from his pocket, unfolded it and, with an intensity of feeling and emotion I was unaccustomed to from him, read:
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done, / But he with a chuckle replied / That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one / Who wouldn’t say so till he tried. / So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin / On his face: If he worried he hid it. / He started to sing as he tackled the thing / That could’t be done, and he did it.
Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that; / At least no one has done it”, / But he took off his coat and he took off his hat, / And the first thing we knew he’d begun it. / With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin, / Without any doubting or quiddit, / He started to sing as he tackled the thing / That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done, / There are thousands to prophesy failure; / There are thousands to point out to you one by one, / The dangers that wait to assail you. / But just buckle in with a bit of a grin, / Just take off your coat and go to it; / Just start to sing as you tackle the thing / That “couldn’t be done,” and you’ll do it.
Nate looked up from the page and asked, “Ever read or hear it before?”
“No, but I would have suspected it was by Edgar Guest.”
“Well, I read it for the first time yesterday, and I became inspired. I wanted to write something as good, as inspirational, as encouraging, for fellow attorneys and the public in general. You write, and you read a lot, don’t you?”
“I would appreciate your opinion of a poem I wrote. Would you mind?”
I was a little surprised. Poets must be sensitive and insightful, thoughtful and reflective. I never thought Nate capable of having the poets’ muse, but perhaps I had misjudged the man.
“Not at all,” I said. “I’d like to hear it.”
“Thank you,” he said. He turned the page over. “Go Ahead and Do It. By – well, by me.” He cleared his throat and began reading:
“It can’t be done, and ain’t no fun! / To try is to just waste time!” / But the boy went ahead, against all they said, / Saying he’d give it a try. / Many scoffed, and brushed the boy off, / And said he was just chasing fairies. / Their doubts went unheeded, he got what he needed: / Money, wine, cute secretaries.
“The answer lies deep and the cost will be steep. / At least that’s the way that I see it. / But the evolution of the problem’s solution / Just needs for somebody to free it!” / To a ripe old age, the venerable sage / Would keep the problem at hand. / And though it seems funny, he made so much money! / But that’s all along what he’d planned.
So then with the wine and the young concubines, / And funding the Government granted, / He studied his task’s solution at last / in Barbados, where he was now planted. / So if you find a task that baffles the sages, / And breaks down the weak and fainthearted – / Tackle it hard! and charge by the yard! / For money and fools are soon parted!
Webster did not find any words to put in his dictionary for the greater, deeper depth of feeling Nate put into the reading of his poem. Suffice it to say, after he paused a moment and said, “Well? What do you think?”, he looked up and saw I was crying. I wiped my tears and sniffles with my shirt sleeve, which was awkward, since I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt.
“Uh – Nate, I honestly don’t know what to say.”
A satisfied, contented expression lit his face. “Never mind, my friend. Your tears say enough. I am deeply, deeply touched! I confess I had a certain confidence in my poetry, and the impact it would have on an intelligent, sensitive audience. You have verified it. Thank you! Would you like to hear it again? Or I have other poems.”
“No! No, Nate. I can’t handle this much sensitivity in a day.” As I wiped another tear, a thought came suddenly, but one that had to be worded carefully. “Nate L. Cleft – don’t you go reading any of these poems of yours to any jury! It might give you an unfair and highly subjective advantage!”
In a flash, the poet was gone, the lawyer was back. “You think so?”
So, some good came out of it after all. Nate hasn’t won a case in two months, a fair number of his clients are in jail, and I heard he was even lynched by one batch of literary jurors. The presiding judge approved.