In Plain View

West Texas is long on churches and short on curb appeal. It is mythmaking territory, a land where legends sprout more readily than trees. The names of its towns speak the truth about this arid swath of geography: Levelland. Plainview.

Balmorhea State Park's artesian fed pool.

The fancifully-named “Sweetwater” breaks the trend, but then again the town did build its own lakes in the late 1800s in order to attract commerce. That’s what you have to do in West Texas if you want a lake: you have to build it yourself. The land is so flat that whichever of the six flags that flew over the state at any given time in the past few centuries would have been easily visible rippling in the dry western breeze for many, many miles.

About other regions, it might be a stretch of the truth to assert that the character of its residents reflects the land’s contours. About West Texas it would be a falsehood to argue otherwise. Whether the landscape draws certain types of folks, or whether it makes folks behave a certain way once they’re already out there, is not clear. What is clear is that you know what you get with these people. They speak directly, and let you know exactly where you stand, just like a quick glance around the dusty plains will tell you exactly where you stand relative to the nearest house, farm, town, low-hanging cloud.

You can hear everything, too, in a terrain unbarricaded by natural soundbreaks. In a 2007 interview with West Virginia Public Television, American composer George Crumb said that the mountains of his home had imprinted their soundscapes indelibly on him through their endless echoes. And it’s true; Crumb’s music is always resonant with echo, either vastly or intimately. The wide West Texas country also comes with its own soundtrack. The even, steady, predictable beat of the plains across which trains once howled is mapped onto the sparse and transparent music of Buddy Holly, one of its greatest sons. The rockabilly singer who hailed from Lubbock and streaked across the pop music firmament like a brief and bright comet wrote and sang in a level, straightforward way, like the earth under his feet. His lyrics and delivery functioned in a single layer: if he sang “oh boy,” it meant he was glad. He didn’t even take poetic license with Peggy Sue; there really was a Peggy Sue. Plain songs with plain words by a plain man from the High Plains. No point in singing the multifaceted and signifyin’ blues here. The land is the blues.

Maybe this kind of landscape heightens the moral sensibilities, makes people better somehow. After all, hiding iniquity is quite difficult when even on the rare un-clear day, you can see forever. There is no cover for evil deeds. Perhaps this is why fundamentalism flourishes here: you can see exactly what your neighbor is up to, facilitating both judgment and fear of judgment. Or maybe this kind of landscape just makes people brazen rather than ethical. Everyone will see anyway, the thinking might go, so what does it matter? The notion of such a wide open expanse is inextricably bound up with sight, literal and moral. You can especially see the fundamentalist evangelicalism that dots the plains: pious specks of tiny Assembly of God churches, get-right-or-get-left billboards, and Christian bookstores.

You can hear it, too; on a three-day visit I counted as many references to the Rapture in normal conversation. The end of time was spoken of as it were just around the corner; and indeed, in what can sometimes seem a post-apocalyptic wilderness, it is easy to believe it just might be. Upon concluding a conversation, one elderly gentleman left me with the cheerful promise, “See you here, there, or in the air!”

Second only to the  fundamentalism in regional religious thought is a loose conglomeration of land-centered beliefs that coalesce around the thesis that until the Rapture, West Texas is the best place on earth to wait it out. Charles Reagan Wilson wrote a book called Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause. In it he argues that the mythology embodied in the “lost cause” worldview, which emerged among southern states following a humiliating loss in the Civil War, constitutes a religion, with high priests, sacred texts, and rituals. It is a convincing argument, and can be applied in some senses to the fervent regional loyalty of Texans. The only difference—and it is a big one—is that their pride, never having been mortally wounded by sociopolitical defeat and cultural irrelevance, doesn’t have to be bolstered by falsehood. Standing on the High Plains, surrounded by longhorn cattle and empty miles, one comes to share their unshakable belief that Texas would be just fine if the other forty-nine should fall.

Surely one of the highest liturgical rituals of Texanism must be the outdoor musical drama “Texas,” performed almost nightly near Amarillo since 1965. Big enough and epic enough to stand up to the canyon (!) in which it is performed, the musical is a cocktail of love stories, expansionism, and frontier dilemmas set in a vague period in the 1800s. The requisite Native Americans obligingly appear in headdress, and vigorous square-dancing is pounded out over a score reminiscent of Copland’s Billy the Kid. Given that even the terrifying thunderstorm depicted in the play coincides with a romantic stage kiss, “Texas” makes frontier life look pretty great. It is easy sport to poke fun at the bland patriotic finale tacked onto the production in recent months, until one realizes that throughout most of this number, the Texas flag is still foregrounded onstage, with the American flag in the background. No, Texas’s cause was never a lost one; and it is impossible not to feel a thrill as riders on horseback fly through the canyon bearing the flags that have flown over the state. The rite is enacted to an enthralled congregation seated on the floor of a rocky open-air cathedral, a reminder that West Texans have succeeded at living on the plains not by subduing them, but by acquiescing to them. Descending into the massive gash to watch the musical hammers home the strange sacrifice of mingled pride and humility that these flatlands demand from their dwellers.

Land and people are connected here as they are everywhere—always a truism but always different in its manifestation. In Wendell Berry’s What Are People For?, he speaks often and in many ways about the “practical harmony” between a land and its people. In West Texas, the harmony is sometimes discordant, with certain strains missing as raindrops pelt the earth less frequently and buffalo hooves have fallen silent. Yet it is still there, throbbing through the music of the plains, which sometimes sounds like a square dance in a canyon, and sometimes sounds like the moan of a lamenting cow, and sometimes sounds like two electric guitars and a dutifully-thumping bass for a Lubbock boy to sing against. The sounds and sights grind themselves into the souls of their inhabitants, whose much-lauded fierce independence is yet ever-dependent on the flat lands on which they stand.




Apple Orchard’s and Hemingway’s Cottage

The true artist works alone, many say, and who am I to argue? Famous men from President Kennedy to Steve Wozniak spoke of this, as did Ernest Hemingway when he accepted the Nobel Prize:

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”

Creation, in this image of the artist, becomes a a guarded space, a time when no one is allowed inside. Sometimes the artist struggles, but it is internal, a personal storm. Keeping others out is a way to allow the work to grow its own way, unaffected by others, shielded from the harsh weather of the critic. He is strong already, the critic within; what artist would open the gates and offer him reinforcements?

An apple blossom. Photo by flickr user andrew dowsett.

I discipline myself as a writer to rarely grant access to my work in its early, formative stages. I want to know what I want to say before you tell me what you think of it. I keep the door to my ideas shut, the way Windemere, Hemingway’s cottage in northern lower Michigan, is generally closed to the public. An heir lives there, and preserves it from the crowds.

I learned of Hemingway’s cottage while at the Bear River Writer’s Conference (BRWC). The cottage and the conference share Walloon Lake, but that might be all they have in common.

I appreciate Hemingway’s perspective. BRWC offers a different one. I find room for both. While I wouldn’t endorse the early exposure of a creative work as a new best practice, there are some benefits to cross-pollination.


Growing up, my room faced west. Its only natural light came from a window, maybe 18 inches wide and three feet high.  We had obscured the view with bunk beds. The wooden slats rubbed against the sill, but I found a way to curve up and through the frame, pressing my face into the screen, breathing in all that was outside. The glow of a near night sky might draw me, but certainly a warm spring day would find me there. That second story window offered the best view of the apple blossoms.

I have no idea how old our small orchard was. The house was built in the thirties, and I imagine the trees were planted then. This would’ve made the trees 40 years old. Most of them, anyway.

There was one little tree, tucked underneath the MacIntosh or Red Delicious. It was probably a volunteer, sprouted from a dropped seed. It grew, and one year, it not only flowered, but the fruit set.

As its apples formed and turned, they looked nothing like the others in the orchard. The ripe fruit was almost pink.

Where that tree came from, and how it grew such unusual fruit, was a mystery to me for quite a while.

What I learned later is that many apple trees require another type of apple tree, in bloom at the same time, in order to produce. These trees are called self-unfruitful. The fruit of some types of trees only set when the blossoms are cross-pollinated. The seeds produced from this process are therefore made of more than one type of apple, and there’s no guarantee what sort of fruit you’re going to get.

It’s funny. Even the few apple varieties that are self-fruitful benefit from cross-pollination. It increases their yield.


When artists get to it, when they go to work, how do they go from the flowering of an idea to a fruitful project? What if you let someone into it early? What might become of your vision? I imagine it could be like a frost. Some people take questions hard, some people give answers harder. The bloom might fall, and the joy of this creation will never get past the early stage of idea.

I realize my process and preconceptions will be tested on the very first day at BRWC. We are here to generate new material; we need to do it in less than 24 hours; I have not pondered my ideas prior to my arrival.

At one time in my writing life, I would have been able to produce something brief, coherent, and safe, but not now. I have taken to the Anne Lamott method of a true first draft. She discusses it as a slightly different discharge, but I view it as catastrophic hurl, where I force myself to just vomit words on the page, knowing I can clean it up later. To have strangers examine my puke, this is not anything I want, but I’m here to take some risks, be generative, write something new.

The beginnings of a piece hit the page. I let the process stand. I run it through the printer and bring it the next day. The other workshop participants share their experiences that connect, and it is nothing like frost. They ask good questions and give genuine insight. Our leader highlights two sentences and calls them out as my voice. I am prodded to write more like that. The fruit sets, and my second draft is incomplete, but transformed.

As I work and take in the setting and the people, other ideas form too, lists of them, mounds of them. Interacting with poets and fiction writers over meals, hearing authors read their work, walking from building to building in days of rain and moments of sun, I see more possibilities, more stories to tell and ideas to explore.

Later I wonder what would have become of the workshop piece had I continued alone. Would it have revealed a different voice, a different form? Perhaps, but now it will bear an image shaped by the group and her leader, the lake and the weather, and in the shadow of Windemere, I will enjoy it for what it is.

The Still Point of a Turning World

Photo by Jennifer Teichman

I don’t know what possessed me. At the end of this past summer, I agreed to teach five college writing courses on three different campuses for the fall semester. Five writing courses. One of the more interesting periods of my life, it can only be described as somewhat equivalent to trying to juggle while riding a unicycle on a tightrope over a pit of flames. There have been moments where, trying to keep track of what assignments I had graded for what student for what class (oh and what was I supposed to be lecturing on today?), my brain peered over the edge and into the abyss of insanity.

Thankfully, it was also this fall that I discovered a small wonder in my corner of the world: Weetamoo Woods and Pardon Gray Preserve, a wildlife sanctuary near my home that soon became my own sanctuary. It also taught me something about creativity and my work as a songwriter and poet.

When I get really busy, as I have been this fall with all my classes, my creativity seems to largely evaporate. No inspiration, no insights, no words, no melodies. Or at least very few. As is often the case, I am not able to make a living off my artistic endeavors, and so the bills must get paid some other way, which means time and energy invested elsewhere. And I’m not complaining about my job. I am grateful to be doing something I enjoy that relates to my interests in writing, especially in this economy. Still, time spent grading papers and teaching college students how to research or write an analysis essay is time not spent crafting notes or piecing together new metaphors, much less being able to think about them. Such is the life of the artist who is not able to make art for a living.

For the most part, I assumed this silence of my soul was the busyness of my schedule, and that my brain was simply being overwhelmed with work information. But when I escaped into the woods, I realized there was something more going on. When I was on my walks, I could actually feel the quiet rhythm of the forest, and it began to settle down my busy mind. I could notice details like birch leaves glowing with the suffusion of sunshine, the ripples in the flowing brook, the small footpath tracing its way through a green, misty meadow. I could feel the softness of moss sheathing piles of jagged rock into green velvet. I could hear the eternal babble of little streams or the chatter of birds reflecting off the trees. I could be still, and being still I could see, not just look at. Artist and author Frederick Franck points out the difference between the two when he says:

We have become addicted to merely looking at things and beings. The more we regress from seeing to looking at the world—through the ever-more-perfected machinery of viewfinders, TV tubes, VCRs, microscopes, stereoscopes—the less we see, the more numbed we become to the joy and the pain of being alive, and the further estranged we become from ourselves and all others. [1]

It was then I realized that the creative perception that one finds through stillness comes about one of two ways: it can sometimes just happen by accident, or you can choose it. I had only subliminally been choosing it by virtue of my escapes into nature, probably because deep down somewhere my soul knew that it needed the rest, the recovery.

To be a good artist, stillness is something that we should choose and practice. We simply cannot wait for it to happen. Seek it out. It’s a vocational requirement. We must find it, for only then will we understand. In her book Walking On Water, Madeleine L’Engle wonderfully encapsulates, “When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening. I will never understand the silent dying of the green pie-apple tree if I do not slow down and listen to what the Spirit is telling me, telling me of the death of trees, the death of planets, of people, and what all these deaths mean in the light of love of the Creator who brought them all into being; who brought me into being; and you.”

Consider a few ideas. Create spaces for stillness. For me, this was retreating to the woods. For you, it may be a quiet space in your home or apartment, or a bench in the park. Then actually spend time there, regularly. Reduce distractions. Instead of going out with smart phone in hand and iPod in ears, ditch the iPod and put the phone on vibrate in your pocket. Keep your senses open.

Do some people watching, or squirrel watching, and see life happening around you. As Dennis Dunleavy observes, “The art of observation begins with immersing ourselves in the textures and tones of life.” [2] You can’t immerse yourself in anything while skittering along the surface of it.

In these times, give your mind time to wander, rather than spinning like a frantic hamster in a wheel over everything you have to do, or what’s happening in your social media world. Daydreaming isn’t just for children;it’s an artist’s most powerful tool because it is the place of possibility. I think some of these ideas are a good place to start.

We need this now more than ever in a world spinning madly on. This is why we need artists, and particularly artists who practice stillness. For in the silence, they will begin to catch glimpses of the meaning behind the motion, which they will then speak, and write, and paint, and sculpt. The artist is one who must stand at the still point of a turning world and simply watch, and in watching, see.


When a Giant Plucks a Tree

Off it came. Off, right like that, plucked off the earth like a hundred year old daisy. The Giant yanked up the old tree right there, right in the middle of town, right in front of everyone. The ground lifted and split and up came the roots with an ancient soil that rinsed off onto the street. The crowd of people resounded with an arching “Ohhh” before the Giant raised the tree towards his mouth. He bit down on a branch like a brontosaurus, tasting and gnashing the twigs and leaves but then quickly realized ‘no, I should not be eating trees’ and spat with a toddler’s vehemence. The Giant held the massive oak by the trunk and shook it and out came several squirrels and birds that crawled and flew all around his colossal frame, scaring and tickling him equally.

“He doesn’t know what he’s done!” one old man said. “He’s always yanking on things before thinkin’ what they’re attached to.” This thing happened to be attached to the earth, attached to the past, attached to the town in a way the Giant didn’t know, or at least didn’t think about, before plucking it from the hearts and minds of the residents of Ripple Spring, Maine, in this November of 1894.

No one knew what had gone through the Giant’s mind but everyone in town suspected that nothing, nothing went through his mind. He just did it. Just like he always does everything: without any consideration for others. Like the time he went around eating all the deer. He just did it. He just ate all the deer in town. And no one could stop him, because by the time Mary Sampson found him devouring a doe in her backyard, he’d already eaten thirty others. All anyone could say was, “Oh, come on! Now there’s no more deer to look at!” And then they went back to their business jaws clenched, hate brewing.

But the Giant was part of the town, a legal resident. Their oldest resident. Older than the tree, at two hundred twenty-four. And so they put up with the deer incident and all those like them. But this. This was the oak – the Ripple Spring scarlet oak! – smack in the middle of town. This was the tree that turned so vibrantly red in October that from afar you’d think some sacrifice had hovered over it the night before. “More beautiful than blood” the townsfolk would say as they admired it from the tobacconist across the street. And now it was gone. Its life ripped away by some living monument, this Giant, this bumbling piece of bothersome history. How could they put up with this? They couldn’t.

“You’d think he’d have a larger brain, what with that massive body.”

“You’d think.”

“Yah, you’d think,” all the drinkers at the Cavanaugh Tavern echoed as they sipped their Narragansett ale with squinty and plotting fervor.

“But he’s only massive.”

“Massive and stupid.”

“I’ve always said, ‘There’s nothing worse than someone that’s large and ignorant.’”

“Mmm,” the others agreed.

“Sure he’s been here the longest, and he is one of the last ones – thank God – but why should we put up with this behavior. It’s just reckless. I don’t give a damn if he is a historical landmark: I’d be hanged if I went around eatin’ all the deer, rippin’ up trees, sittin’ on funeral homes.”

“He’s worse than a Massachusettian,” Dick slurred.

“Yah!” they all yelled.

The front door swung open and in came Charlie Franklin and the noise fell and the hearth crackled, caught in the aim of the outer gusts. Charlie had lost an arm fighting at Chancellorsville and had been mostly quiet since. He and his wife Anna lived on a farm just outside town and if he’d known the men’s topic of conversation for that evening he might’ve stayed home. But he was there now so he bellied up without a word to the others.

“Can you believe it Charlie, he’s gone and – hey Charlie, I says can you believe it: he’s ripped up the oak!” said Dick.

“Ah,” Charlie mumbled, “I’m sure he didn’t know any better.”

“You oughtn’t take his side, Charlie. Sympathy is cruel if not matched with Consequence.”

“Well… it’s not like he’s killed anybody.”

The others paused. Charlie was right. The Giant hadn’t killed anybody. He’d only destroyed the town a little. Compared to having the last Giant in the state, a little destruction was surely something to put up with, Charlie thought.

A young wayfaring transcendentalist, who wore a bright green vest and was drinking alone in the corner, suddenly stood up and discovered he was drunk and quickly stumbled outside at a near gallop, as if he suddenly realized he had somewhere better to be. He ran up the road and then veered into the woods as if to escape society into the fold of nature’s bosom. The others jeered the transcendentalist – as they did all of them up there, for good measure – and got back to the business of the Giant.

Charlie sat and quietly listened as the others continued to complain with growing contempt. He gulped the last fourth of his beer and slid on his coat with some awkward extension of his only arm and slung it like a matador around his back and put on his hat and walked out the door and the hearth crackled and the others drank more.

“Well maybe Charlie’s right. He hasn’t really hurt anybody.”


“And even if he had… they’re not gonna lock him up. He’s too big!”


“We’re stuck with him.”

An avalanche of vituperation began to trickle in their brains. They all sat and licked the foam from their lips, a little more hunched than usual, and a quiet befell the bar that felt louder than any noise.

“Well… What say ye we do something?”

Their eyes moved. Their heads didn’t.

“Well… what? What do you think we oughta do?”

Suddenly the front door swung open and slammed against the wall as Charlie Franklin backed in without breath and without voice dragging with his only arm some cumbersome limp and muddy thing that appeared to be a person.

“God, Charlie, what’s this!?”

“I didn’t even see him. He ran in front of the carriage. Just out of nowhere.”

It was the transcendentalist. His sternum was collapsed, crushed under the wreck. They all huddled around. One man crouched down and examined his pulse and opened his green vest to find less than he had hoped and then put his hand on the transcendentalist’s forehead and exclaimed, “He’s dead, Charlie.” And opportunity rang before bereavement.

It was as if fate dropped into their beer mugs and they stared at it as it swirled into some cruel divination, which they imbibed with the relish of a cup everlasting. Here’s to Opportunity. Here’s to Recompense. Here’s to the chance for Ripple Spring to at last be free from its primordial, clumsy Colossus.

“Now… We don’t know this poor young man. Nobody knows him. But I’ll say this…” Dick exclaimed, with the index finger of a politician. “This looks like the work of a Giant.” Dick pushed back his shoulders, his eyes stony, his mouth resolute, with the confidence of Satan himself. “Wouldn’t you say?”

“What?” Charlie asked. “No, this man ran in front of my horse, this isn’t–”

“Yah,” a fat man interrupted. “I think you’re right, Dick. In fact before I was here I think I heard that Giant stomping down that very road.”

“Yah,” a few others agreed.

“Just look at his chest! Sure, that’s the work of a Giant, then.”


“Well, then we need to find him!” said Dick. “He won’t get away with this, men.”

“Now listen, this isn’t right,” said Charlie. “I’m tellin’ you: he was struck by my horse.”

But it was too late. The men shouted at Charlie to hush up and think of the town and if he didn’t want any trouble himself he’d stay out of this. They pushed Charlie aside and stepped over the transcendentalist and ran into the town screaming murder and indiscretion and beckoning others to join their bitter scission. On Main Street, windows lit up in near rhythmic succession, accompanied by excitable eyes and such a cacophonous sounding of rumors that even the cows began to low of legends. Charlie watched their gathering storm, as their ten became twenty, and soon their twenty, fifty.

And then, amidst the melee, came a rumbling that only Charlie heard. In a giantless town you’d think it was a far off thunder, but this wasn’t that. Another succession of soft booms sounded, the growing and noisy crowd still unaware. Boom, they sounded again, and soon after became felt. Charlie looked out across the trees, whose moonlit tops rustled and spread. The Giant had awoken, made curious by the worst curiosity, and was walking towards the town perhaps expecting some better festivity. Soon one little girl looked at Charlie and saw what Charlie was seeing. “Look! In the woods!” she screamed. “It’s the Giant!” Charlie quickly unhitched his carriage and mounted his horse and galloped out into the woods, as the little girl watched him and then ran off to her half-drunk father, Dick.

As Charlie rode, the terrifying adrenaline of a veteran’s valor was resurrected in his soul. He felt transported back to their cavalry’s retreat at Fredericksburg, where once before he rode away from the same hyena-like yapping of a rebel yell. He missed the weight of that history, violent as it was. For a second he thought he felt a muscle in his phantom arm before being brought back to reality, where he was charging a Giant.

He met the Giant and halted the horse and the horse stamped and whinnied with wide eyes as it sidled at the feet of a less graceful beast. Charlie raised his one arm and yelled, “STOP… YOU NEED TO COME WITH ME. YOU NEED TO BE PROTECTED. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” The stupid Giant didn’t understand, but he followed Charlie anyway because he was hungry and the horse looked good.

Charlie led him through the woods and across the plain to his farm and then dismounted his horse. He opened the doors to his barn and then turned around to find that the Giant had eaten his horse. Charlie yelled, “Ohhh, dammit. Now don’t! If you’re hungry I’ll give you some food, but you can’t eat my animals. Now, get in the barn.” The Giant hunched down and entered the barn and sat on the ground as roosters fled from his crushing haunches.

Charlie got a bucket of oats and brought it to the Giant. “Here. You can eat this.” But the Giant didn’t. “I’m trying to protect you. I’m risking my life for you, you hear?” Charlie said, looking into the Giant’s cavernous nostrils. The Giant breathed out his nose with childlike diffidence.

Charlie climbed to the top of a stack of hay and met the Giant at eye level. “People don’t like you. Do you know that? You can’t go around pullin’ up trees or eatin’ whatever you want. You can’t do that. People don’t care that you’re a part of history. Not anymore they don’t. You’ve gotta be worth somethin’ to them. And right now, you’re not. You’re worthless. But if you were a little less stupid, people might change their minds. They might want to get to know you. They might ask about who you are, what this place used to be like. Understand? DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” The Giant vapidly nodded his head in apparent affirmation, but it was unclear if this communication breakthrough was mere coincidence or truly a step forward in reconciliation. Charlie took it as the latter.

“Now look, I brought you these oats, you can eat these oats. See? Eat. They’re good.” Charlie put a few oats in his mouth and chewed them, and the Giant, now eye to eye with Charlie, appeared to start to grin. “You can eat them.” He reached a handful of oats towards the smiling mouth of the Giant. “Open your mouth and eat. I’m trying to take care of you. I’m trying to protect you. Eat.” The Giant opened his mouth and before Charlie could pull away the Giant quickly chomped down on Charlie’s arm, severing it at the shoulder. Charlie screamed and fell backwards and his armless body toppled to the ground and dyed the hay before he passed out at the feet of the Giant.

The barn was still. The Giant gazed at nothing with bovine daftness as Charlie’s bicep dangled from his lips. He peered out the opened barn door. Off in the distance he saw a collection of fired torches, hurriedly bopping towards him on the plain. Under the flames came a hollering chorus of voices. It rushed forward and away from the past with a recklessness that saw only Tomorrow and knew only Now. The torches advanced like savage rockets. The old Giant turned his massive head to listen to the rising clamor, and for the first time, dread befell him, and his ears perked from the venom of their sound. Charlie’s body lay helpless in a spreading pool of scarlet, as the oncoming voices mounted in the darkness, calling for the Giant, chanting “justice… justice… justice.”