April 26, 2016

National Poetry Month: Ode to Turnabout

The following is a fanfiction poem based loosely off the Ace Attorney franchise, with Prosecutor Edgeworth on the right, and Defense Attorney Phoenix Wright on the left. There's more of an explanation under the poem.


The Short-Sighted Turnabout

September 14th, Twelve o'clock,
Inside Courtroom 2

The prosecution is ready, Your Honor.

The defense is ready, too.

The events of the crime are as follows:
Mr. Theodore Day—known as “Ted”—
was found outside his apartment,
bruised and bloodied and dead.
What's more, his eyes were gouged out,
and were found nowhere on the scene.
His sister, a martial artist,
told the police a story obscene:
she said a monster had killed him,
a winged and hideous beast.
It knocked him down off a ladder,
and then it started to feast...
I'll spare you the gruesome details
of to what she, Ester Day, attested.
As she was so obviously lying,
she was suspect, and promptly arrested.
Along with the victim’s autopsy,
the evidence of the case includes
a step-ladder against the wall,
the suspect's untied shoes,
a folded plastic wrestling mat
that Ester used for karate,
and some yet unexplained feathers
scattered all around the body.
The autopsy seemed to suggest
that Day died from loss of blood,
that once his sister had plucked out his eyes,
he could do nothing to quell the flood—

Objection! There's no way that she
caused all that blood and gore.
Her brother was 6'7”;
she's only five-foot-four.
Aside from that is the simple fact
that the plucking out of pupils
is not an easy thing to do,
even if you had no scruples.
Ted Day would have fought her off,
there'd be defensive wounds.
The autopsy shows none of that,
so perhaps you'll change your tune?

I suppose that you have a point,
and what you said would be true
if the suspect weren't a master
of eagle-claw kung-fu
and if their weren't a ladder
from which he hadn't fallen down,
but she is, and there was,
and he was stunned upon the ground.
This gave ample opportunity
to seal her brother's fate.
Ester Day struck early,
and thus, Ted Day is late.

Actually, that's a step-ladder...

That's besides the point.

Then getting back to Ester Day,
it seems she had some joint
pain from her last tournament.
She couldn't strike or punch.
She couldn't be the murderer,
but I've also got a hunch—

You're hunches are irrelevant.
What we need now are facts,
from which you've been diverting us
so let's get back on track.
The autopsy identified
loss of blood as COD,
but there has been a turnabout
a second autopsy.
I ordered it myself,
for I wanted to be sure—

Objection! No one told me!

Ah, but all's fair in love and war,
and in the court of law
any evidence is fair.
The cause of death, it now turns out
was poison, red and rare.
It was a fast-acting venom
causing instantaneous death.
To ingest a single teaspoon
would stop anybody's breath.
So the victim drank this poison
and then died without delay.
There was no one there to feed him,
no one but Ester Day.

(Of course you'd pull that dirty trick,
this new-autopsy-finagle,
and introduce it afterward
though I'm sure that it's illegal...
But if Ted Day was poisoned
then how'd he loose his eyes?
And if Ester Day was present
what's the reason for her lies?
Was he poisoned on the ground?
But the ladder’s on the wall,
and why bother with the poison
when you could have caused a fall?
If I turn around my thinking,
just what will I surmise?
The murder happened first...
and then he lost his eyes!
If I only had a witness;
if I only had some proof.
If only I could show
that there was someone on the roof...)
Objection! Let's look again
at this new autopsy report.
It seems that in his haste
Edgeworth was quite short-
sighted, for you'll notice
that right here on page two
the eyes were lost postmortem;
it seems that they were chewed,
pecked out by some animal—
I suspect a bird—
which explains Ester's story
of what she thought occurred.
To see her brother's body
as an aviary feast
caused a trauma to her memory.
She blocked it out; she saw “a beast”.
Note that this explains
the feathers scattered on the ground
and the fact that his eyeballs
were nowhere to be found,
for his ocular organs,
as his sister first suggested,
were in a “monster's” stomach,
soon to be digested.

That's all well and good, Wright,
but you're short-sighted, too.
Ted Day died of poisoning,
which a pigeon could not do,
and though there's legal precedent
for cross-examining a bird,
to think one committed murder
for even you would be absurd.

Hold it! I'm not finished,
this trial's yet to be decided,
and we've hardly scratched the surface
of this report that you provided.
The cause of death was poisoning,
to that we both agree,
but I think you'll notice something
if you flip it to page three.
His bruises and contusions
were consistent with a fall,
but all occurred postmortem,
postmortem, one and all.
So maybe he was poisoned
while standing on the ladder,
and only after dying
did he fall and cause a clatter
that alerted his sister
to his most pathetic fate—

This is all conjecture!

Hold it! Now just wait.
Suppose the killer waited
for the victim on the roof—

“Suppose” is not evidence!
“So maybe” isn't proof!.
I will concede that if we read
the report to its conclusion,
Ted Day fell after he was dead
and thus got his contusion.
But all that means was Ester Day
was up there with her brother,
and after she had—

There had to be another!
The police will back me up on this,
and I have a statement, signed,
from Ester Day's psychiatrist.
Just look. I think you'll find
that Miss Day could not have done it,
could not have climbed, that's right.
Esther Day is prone to phobias,
and her worst fear... was height!

Why wasn't I told of this?
You knew of this, detective?
Oh, you forgot? I won't forget
on your next salary assessment.
But I digress... You've made your point
the roof was where he died,
and then the body fell somehow,
and then he got de-eyed...
But if Ester Day is innocent,
as you still sadly claim,
then who is Ted Day's killer?
Can you provide us with a name?

(Of course he called my bluff!
Though “there's another”'s what I said,
just who it is is still a mystery.
I don't know who killed Ted,
but if I don't start pointing fingers
and buy a little time
Ester Day will be convicted
of a fratricidal crime.
Tonight I'll have to look
at all the evidence I missed,
but for now I'll pick some random name
from off this witness list.)
I know who did the deed, Your honor
(Just look at Edgeworth's face!)
I know who murdered Ted,
I think I solved the case.
It could only be one person
who killed and got away.
It could only be Tom Morrow.
Tom Morrow killed Ted Day.

Objection! Are you off your gourd
Tom Morrow the humanitarian?
The man who ran seven orphanages,
and who now is an octogenarian?
Tom Morrow who walks with a limp and a cane—
you're saying it was he who climbed
up to the roof and poisoned Day?
Tom Morrow, who's totally blind?

Yes, that Tom Morrow! It was him!
(Just say it as if it makes sense.)

Objection! You picked his name out of a hat!
Is this what you call a defense?

Objection! The evidence clearly shows—

Objection! It shows no such thing!

Objection! Let me finish my sentence at least.

Objection! His arm's in a sling
and he's eighty years old and he's weak and he's frail
You know that he couldn't kill Day.

Objection! Yes, but, um... you see...

At least object with something to say!

Order! Order! Order!

Now, gentlemen, let's not shout.
The rules of this court aren't ones to flout,
but it seems there’s been a bit of a turnabout
in the murder of Theodore Day.
Is Tom Morrow a hero or murderous lout?
Though it's certain he holds quite a lot of clout,
the defense has planted the seeds of doubt
in the trial of Ester Day.
Now, Mr. Edgeworth, please don't pout.
The truth, in the end, will be found out
(And I and my grandchild will go hunt trout.)
Court is adjourned for the day.


The final week of National Poetry Month is upon us, and I decided to go out with a bang! While searching through form poems on the internet, I came across the Pindaric ode, which in theory consists of a strophe, antistrophe, and epode. The strophe states an idea, the antistrophe states an opposite or counter idea, and the final stanza or epode ties the two together or balances them out... or something? Do the strophes/antistrophes repeat? And if so, are there multiple epodes, or only one at the very end? Many websites said the same basic thing about the structure, but few provided examples, and glancing through Pindar's actual odes didn't help much. What was more, his odes have “complicated” rhyme schemes, but that's not necessarily preserved in the translation. No websites offered any specifics on rhyme or meter, other than that the epode has a different rhyme or meter from the strophe/antistrophe. So I just made it all up as I went along. I know the rhythm is a bit wonky in places, but considering that I wrote the whole thing just yesterday, I'm ok with a little wonkiness.

As for the subject matter, the idea of a strophe and antistrophe immediately suggested the Ace Attorney games. Ace Attorney, also called Phoenix Wright or Turnabout Trial, is a series of visual novels where you play as an attorney and defend clients; they are far stranger than they sound. The gameplay is extremely basic, and mostly involves choosing the correct statement or item to support your case, contradict the prosecution, or solicit information from a witness. There is occasionally some variation where you can spin evidence around to examine it from multiple angles, spray luminol on crime scenes, or dust for finger prints (and blow into the DS microphone to waft the powder away. So scientific!). Let me be clear: 99% of the gameplay is just using the arrow keys to select things, and then pressing A to confirm your selection. And yet, these are some of my all-time favorite games, owing entirely to how the story and characters are presented.

Each game features a cast of larger-than life characters and usually revolves around a number of murder trials (though the Edgeworth spinoffs focus more on investigation of crime scenes). The plots often follow a mystery arc, with a number of clues (evidence) that slowly reveal what actually occurred during each crime. The denouements are full of drama, emotion, and occasionally wild twists (especially the final case in each game). Accompanying the titular character, Phoenix Wright, throughout the games are the spunky spirit-medium/assistant, Maya Fey (I guess you could call her a paranormal paralegal. *ba-dum-tiss*); the bumbling but well-meaning detective, Dick Gumshoe (these are the names, folks); and a number of prosecutors who parry your every move (my favorite is Edgeworth, who has a dark past, a loathing of crime, and a penchant for frilly clothes). The cast is wacky, but also totally lovable and genuine. You care about what happens to your allies, root for your rivals to have a change of heart, and worry when various people are injured, kidnapped, or missing. Though the games are obviously about saving clients and solving crimes, the reason people play them is for the emotions and relationships between the characters. I, myself, burst into tears at the conclusions of the first two games, and the only reason I didn't cry during the third was because I was too busy having my mind blown by the multiple twists of the final case.

Balancing the more dramatic aspects of the game is the comedy. Because of the limitations of the original cartridges, each character only has a set number of movement sprites, and the dialogue is typed out in tiny boxes three lines at a time, with no more than one or two characters on screen at any given moment. What this means is that most of the story is dialogue-based, which actually allows for a lot of back and forth repartee and verbal gags. The characters’ personalities are distilled into the essence of their few movement animations, and the rest of their traits come across through speech patterns and verbal ticks, which is something I feel many authors should strive to emulate. Because you experience the story more or less frame by frame, the timing is similar to that in a comic strip, yet also uses techniques that are more similar to film. For example, characters’ reaction shots (that is, cutting to the sprite of a different character) are used to add both comedy and tension, and there will also occasionally be text coming from “off screen” when a character charges into the courtroom with a shocking revelation. All of this makes the Ace Attorney games something of a cross between melodrama and slapstick, and with the mystery/courtroom motif added on, it's no wonder it's such a popular franchise.

Thus we come to my ode. I had hopes of writing something dramatic, full of allusions to Lady Justice, or questions like, “What does it mean to defend someone?” or “Should I be a prosecutor who fights crime, or a defense attorney who saves lives”— both of which are asked by characters in the actual games. But I pondered how to start for two straight weeks, coming up with nothing, until I saw the new Jungle Book movie (excellent, by the way) over the weekend. I think Rudyard Kipling's “Law of the Jungle” poem that they quote became an earworm, giving me a rhythm to play around with. And then I wrote a few lines concerning a gruesome murder from a different story I was working on, as if they were spoken by Phoenix and Edgeworth, and, well, the rest is history. Players of the game will notice that I start with the time and location, as every chapter starts, and that in the final stanza, I make reference to the judge's grandson who is occasionally mentioned in the games. The excruciatingly bad pun names come courtesy of Sophia's Favorite. And as for the step-ladder… well, you’ll get it if you’ve played the games.


  1. Neeeeeeeeerd!

    (I still think RE: "Cross-examining a bird" you should've tried to work in "You're welcome for that, by the way." from Phoenix.)

  2. I don't see how writing a Pindaric ode concerning a visual novel about lawyers makes me a nerd... >__>