The Lawyer Who Died in The Courthouse Bathroom

Thomas J. Erickson

In The Lawyer Who Died in the Courthouse Bathroom, Erickson’s muscular poems perform a post-mortem on the titular lawyer with unflinching honesty, digging into personal life failures, the noble work defending indigent clients, and the ugly compromises made in order to do so.

The result is a complete and complicated portrait of the human condition, one that circles back on itself to the title poem and demands re-reading. “The Laywer Who Died in the Courthouse Bathroom,” reads as both obituary and elegy, at once acknowledging the futility and necessity of a life’s work: “As a young man, he read Camus and resolved / that if God did exist it wouldn’t make any difference… The hundreds of people he represented; / their dramas not worth one whit. / The files waiting in his briefcase / the combination set to open.”

Thomas J. Erickson was born in 1960 and grew up in Kohler, Wisconsin.  He received a BA from Beloit College in English Composition and a law degree from Marquette University.  His poems have appeared in numerous publications including The Los Angeles Review, Quiddity International Literary Review, Mad Poet’s Review, The New Poet, and Slant.  He is an attorney in Milwaukee where he is a member of the Hartford Avenue Poets.  He is the proud father of Charles and John.


“I, for one,” writes Tom Erickson, “do not think the alienation of modern man is so funny.” And it is with insight and admirable clarity that he sets out to support his premise in a new collection of remarkable poems. Without any apparent effort, Erickson offers the reader glimpses into the complex mind of the clear-eyed attorney, the disappointed lover, the intelligent observer of contemporary life– poems that should be read not only for their unflinching honesty, but for their insights and revelations as well. Often spiked with dark humor, the poet proves to the reader again and again that there can be tenderness in irony, beauty in disillusionment, and genuine meaning in the everyday.

~Marilyn L. Taylor, Wisconsin Poet Laureate, 2009-2010

Like a noir film, these poems unroll the seamy side of lawyering: dealing with ne’er-do-wells, creeps and killers, all of whom the speaker can abide to represent but the child molesters: “How they look/into my eyes out of some dark animal terror …” These are not pretty little narratives. These are gritty, shadowy realities most of us never see. And isn’t this the poet’s work—to bring to light that which is hidden? In these poems, there are murderers, molesters, and dealers.  There is much angst over the job the speaker must do, like the home-visit to his “ward” where life is bleak, but “if not this family for her, who?” Darkness pervades these lyrics, these stories, yet in the hands of Tom Erickson, there are moments of transcendence and grace. These poems will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them.

~Karla Huston, author of A Theory of Lipstick, Main Street Rag

In his chapbook, “The Lawyer Who Died in the Courthouse Bathroom,” Tom Erickson takes us inside the courthouse and inside the mind of the lawyer who, in the poem “Speaking in Tongues,” gives us a hard reality:  ‘I explicate, obfuscate, mitigate, equivocate–/the translator of a story of death.’ Yet in the poem “Home Visit,” he speaks of his three-year-old ward with heartbreaking care:  ‘If not this family for her, who?  Somebody/has to hang the pictures, somebody has to/pay the cable bill, somebody has to hear/the bird sing.’ Filled with subtlety and depth, layered and sometimes elliptical, these poems ask to be read more than once. In poems like “Sweating the Bottle” and “The Killers,” there is world weariness, too much seen and heard from the bottom rungs. Yet poems like “Beloit, Wisconsin, February, 1983″ and ” Light” buoy the reader with lyricism and tenderness. I will go back to this book again. You will too.

~Susan Elbe, author of The Map of What Happened and Light Made from Nothing

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Court Appearances

If a line is a point set in motion
then how could the forger stop
once he entered the decimal point?
It is an unbroken line to obfuscation
and abnegation, larceny and lucre.

Maybe the murderer should be set
free because we are all possibly dead
already. I will recite, Judge, to
the hereafter, and if no one comes,
let him go.