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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hey, Mr. Rooster, don't bring me no new day without a job to go with it

Some yearnings never go out of style. The cock crows and it can only mean one of two things: time to milk the cows or pretend you don't know this man. We'd much prefer the first meaning, but, alas, work has gone overseas or out of style. And what's replaced it is mostly time misspent in virtual places where saving the world is about as productive as masturbation. Notice I didn't use the word "satisfying." If the "sin" of taking things into your own hands didn't satisfy, no one would spend their time and dimes on simulacrum.

Personally (as well as impersonally), I agree with Ed Dorn when he wrote about "escorting" the chairmen and presidents out of the building or locking them there in quarantine until the power that plagues them passes. Showing them the door or forcing them to sleep on the floor could be done peacefully but addicts, as we have seen, will sell anything to be able to buy. They have gun racks in the back of their eyes. Addiction is addictive--as much so as alienation.

In the mean time, a poem so good by Ed Dorn it will make giving attention of lesser degree or deviant quality to anything outside it a mistake you will regret for the rest of your life. This is a true


Again, I am made the occurrence
Of one of her charms. Let me
Explain. An occupier
Of one of the waves of her intensity.

One meeting

Behind the back
of the world
Brief and fresh
And then
Winter nights
The crush of fine snow
A brilliancy of buildings around us
Brief warmth
In the cold air, the cold temperament
Of a place I can't name

Now what is it. Turning into
A shadowed corridor half the earth away
And deep inside an alien winter
I remember her laugh
The strange half step she took

And I would not believe it
If Europe or England
Could in any sense evoke her without me,
The guitar of her presence the bearer of her scent
Upon my wrist
The banding of her slightsmiling lassitude . . .

--Ed Dorn, Way More West: New and Selected Poems, Penguin Books, 2007, p. 67

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Place Rumored to be Sodom was a Corn Field

The year is 1943. Waiting for someone to come home is as common, to quote Jack Spicer, "as rats and seaweed." The only things that know close holding are sweet, yearbook dreams put on hold by the war.

Of course, the real bedrock and undercurrent of those dreams was more drear and dry. But there is a kind of collective forbearance, bred and left by the Great Depression, that is almost rhapsodic in its pervasiveness throughout America. Ed Dorn, then (c. 1963) in his 30s, remembers a rural America far less lyrical than Wendell Berry's in this extraordinary poem, "On The Debt My Mother Owed to Sears Roebuck." It is hard for anyone born into land-of-largess America to remember a time when the Sears Roebuck catalog mailed to millions was as close to Amazon as the world got before WWII. It came once a year and it was a major event that cast a lifeline to America's mighty Mississippi of manufacture, especially to farm folk. I can only, or barely, imagine the sensuality of leafing through that giant tome of commerce and feeling the thrill of necessity and pangs of occasional frivolity as people with plenty of nothing planned to fill their households with products shown on those pages.

Credit was out of its infancy by then, made more right and reasonable by the closed loop of thriving American industrial capitalism. After all, how bad could it be to long for the output of one's neighbors and countrymen? No commandment could be broken by such desire or the goods that were its object. The debt, or karma, of a system based on consumption of one's own labor was more purely spiritual--a matter for Sabbath concern: not the right to want what one could pay for but its rightful, proportionate place. Ah, the glorious self-fulfilling prophecy of pre-global America where everyone baked the wafers they were fed in their churches. Imports to those in Kansas were from a not-so-distant Cathay called Detroit. So when the war Dorn invokes at the end of this poem enters, desire deferred has an autonomic presumption of fulfillment. One of the first and tastiest spoils of war will be resumption of domestic production and consumption.

For readers of this magnificent poem today, Dorn, writing in the early 1960s, is an almost enviable throwback to a classic, now-vanished commonplace of Marxist-style worker alienation. His concerns seem almost luxurious in their pure American self-containment. The debt, like all the things it buys, is still made in the USA. The alienation has nothing yet to do with massive deprivation of a role in production (forget ownership of its means). That sadness is yet to come. Jobs still come back in 1945 and continue to do so until globalization takes ferocious, irreversible grip in the 1970s. Workers of the world unite! will no longer be an option for Americans by 1980. Being will be replaced by the pseudo-occupation of isolated consumption and a nothingness of brands. Consumption will have no relationship to labor. And, fittingly, the debt will be owed to banks not stores. The final stage of alienation is complete loss of its detection or even a need for vigilance against it. But Dorn is as much Wobbly as wobbler.

So by remembering when a locust plague took a measure of desolation that was so profound and confounding that its symbolism was tearful, Dorn reminds me of awakenings through poetry that seem to have no counterpart. It hurts to imagine the feudal farm existence that led Dorn to write this about his mother: "...the dust of the fields / in her eyes, the only title she ever had to lands..." And oh that opening with its dry, remorseless heat. I have never seen the dustbowl life of the 1930s summarized better than the brittleness of an existence likened to crackling of a locust body under foot. Dorn says the sound is "like the breaking of / a mechanical bare heart which collapses / from an unkind an incessant word whispered..." This is one of the most unrelentingly powerful poems I have ever read. I have carried it with me since college and I have thought about it as much as any Christian thinks of a talismanic psalm. How, I wonder, do our hearts re-leaven with exuberant purpose? Is not praise simply devout compassionate affection?

More than anything else these days, I fear achieving nothing more than a truce with my melancholy. I fear I will die less than the man I owe this poem the duty to become: Bodhisattva on the loose and sometimes on the run. My mantra: "Scared sacred," as someone (maybe me) wrote years and years ago. Only now its not jolting into a higher state. It's just a way of notating the close ground proximity and co-terminousness of both states. My prayer: that it not be a photo finish between the two states, but a clear runaway triumph of the One, a higher debt paid in full.


Summer was dry, dry the garden
our beating hearts, on that farm, dry
with the rows of corn the grasshoppers
came happily to strip, in hordes, the first
thing I knew about locust was they came
dry under the foot like the breaking of
a mechanical bare heart which collapses
from an unkind an incessant word whispered
in the house of the major farmer
and the catalogue company,
from no fault of anyone
my father coming home tired
and grinning down the road, turning in
is the tank full? thinking of the horse
and my lazy arms thinking of the water
so far below the well platform.

On the debt my mother owed to sears roebuck
we brooded, she in the house, a little heavy
from too much corn meal, she
a little melancholy from the dust of the fields
in her eye, the only title she ever had to lands--
and man's ways winged their way through the mail
saying so much per month
so many months, this is yours, take it
take it, take it, take it
and in the corncrib, like her lives in that house

the mouse nibbled away at the cob's yellow grain
until six o'clock when her sorrow grew less
and my father came home

On the debt my mother owed to sears roebuck?
I have nothing to say, it gave me clothes to
wear to school,
and my mother brooded

in the rooms of the house, the kitchen, waiting
for the men she knew, her husband, her son
from work, from school, from the air of locusts
and dust making the hedges of field she knew
in her eye as a vague land where she lived,
boundaries, whose tractors chugged pulling harrows
pulling discs, pulling great yields from the earth
pulse for the armies in two hemispheres, 1943
and she was part of that stay at home army to keep
things going, owing that debt.

--Ed Dorn, Way More West; New and Selected Poems, Penguin Books, 2007, pages 25-6

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pacem On The Terrace

Where were you that miserable morning, everyone wants to know but, more honestly, to recall as part of the national wallowing. I was where I am today, bending events to the will and need of the moment and sometimes calling it prayer. Only maybe that day it was alright to fear and feel sorry for yourself.

Han Shan's Ardmore pen pal says this: The memorials are to found among the living and built where living is hardest--say in Gaza, Haiti or Somalia.

Shit, I'm beginning to sound like the quenchless spectre of Phil Ochs. Please forgive me for sounding like I am making recriminations.

At midnight, the gateway to this wretched day, I was watching "Judgment at Nuremberg" with my girlfriend Mo, and we both felt those trials were the best memorial to what 9-11 made America become. Only when Bush & Cheney stand in the docket accused of war crimes will the ghosts of 9-11 find peace (if they have not already done so).

This morning, for reasons unknown or maybe unknowable, I took refuge in the last poems of Robert Creeley, written in the months and weeks before his death in March 2005, the same bereaved week as Terry Sciavo and a Pope. He is remembered as furnishing undying companionship. He speaks to the One of shared consciousness, of which I am trying to remain a stubborn part.

My lesson for this day, as I watched Obama reading from the Bible on TV this morning, was this: "With God on our side" is the ultimate expression of atheism because it bars God from taking his fullest residence and resonance in our Hearts where His Oneness and Humanity's are fully proclaimed.

Creeley knew this oneness of consciousness and therefore I find these poems appropriate for true remembrance:


Which one are you
and who would know.
Which way
would you have come this way.

And what's behind,
beside, before.
If there are more,
why are there more.


One's here
and there is still elsewhere
along some road to hell
where all is well--

or heaven
where all the saints still wait
and guard the golden gate.


If, as one says, one says
something to another,
does it go on and on then
without apparent end?

Or does it only become talk,
balked by occasion, stopped
because it never got started,
was said to no one?

--Robert Creeley, On Earth: Last Poems, New Directions, 2006, pages 40-42

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Pound of Cure

Some of Ezra Pound's greatest poems are his translations--especially of Chinese and Latin poets. In defense and proof of this assertion, I give you:

This monument will outlast metal and I made it
More durable than the king's seat, higher than pyramids.
Gnaw of the wind and rain?
The flow of years to break it, however many.

Bits of me, many bits, will dodge all funeral,
O Libitina-Persephone and, after that,
Sprout new praise. As long as
Pontifex and the quiet girl pace the Capitol
I shall be spoken where the wild flood Aufidus
Lashes, and Daunus ruled the parched farmland:

Power from lowliness: "first brought Aeolic song to Italian fashion"--
Wear pride, work's gain. O Muse Melpomene,
By your will bind the laurel.
My hair, Delphic laurel.

Horace, Odes, Book III

--Ezra Pound, New Selected Poems & Translations, New Directions, 2010, page 280

Some notes: This ode by Horace is a powerful reminder that the word music is derived from "muse" (Melpomene), whom the poet invokes for inspiration to his song by which he "binds the laurel" (i.e., coheres the world). I love the last line ("My hair, Delphic laurel"), which signifies full oracular power granted and active in the poet. The ode is a kind of ascent during which the power most manifest in poetry confers indestructible beauty and immortality: "Bits of me, many bits, will dodge all funeral, / O Libitina-Persephone (Libitina is the Greek goddess of death and Persephone a Greek goddess of the underworld]..." "I shall be spoken where the wild flood Aufidus [a long, winding Roman River whose name was taken from the Greek word for snake) / Lashes, and Daunus [one of three mythical Greek brothers who conquered eastern Italy and named a portion of it after himself] ruled the parched farmland."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Speech After Long Silence

Dear Friends,

And so another Ramadan has come and almost gone and NATO, Assad, the latest Al Kalifa, Netanyahu, et. al, have forced Muslims to find and worship in the mosque within, and the rest of us to offer the lame, symbolic shelter of our knotty prayers and feeble protest. As I write, Irene has bid a fond, gusty farewell--a reminder that aberrant man and nature work in consort.

This August, I've been reading George Herbert, possibly the greatest metaphysical poet England ever produced (forgive me Blake and Donne fans). But in this year of personal deconstruction and dissent, Herbert has helped me make my private assault on religion a reclamation. So have modern sojourners into a more bereft beyond--where icons hide in ruins like buried cans of pineapple found during a famine. Making do with less is still to have an All/Ah! At its most empty, post-Dover Beach life is still an extension of gnosis and thus never less than FULL.


Though the great song return no more
There's keen delight in what we have:
The rattle of pebbles on the shore
Under the receding wave

--William Butler Yeats, 1932

Hence I have added Beckett to my backpack for the first time in years. He is adroit at the metaphysics of exhaustion. And he keeps me laughing at my own pilgrim pretensions:

"Do you feel like singing? said Camier
Not to my knowledge, said Mercier.
The rain was beginning again. But had it ever ceased?
Let us make haste, said Camier.
Why do you ask me that? said Mercier.
Camier seemed in no hurry to reply. Finally he said:
I hear singing.
They halted, the better to listen.
I hear nothing, said Mercier.
And yet you have good ears, said Camier, as far as I know.
Very fair, said Mercier.
Strange, said Camier.
Do you hear it still? said Mercier.
For all the world a mixed choir, said Camier.
Perhaps it's a delusion, said Mercier.
Possibly, said Camier."

--Samuel Beckett, Mercier and Camier, Grove Press, p. 16

Because Beckett-ian deconstruction has become such a necessary part of my life, it tempts all sorts of mockery of the constructs by which I have lived for decades. It works during Ramadan because it enjoins a fasting from conventional expectation.

"There are days, said Mercier, one is born every moment. Then the world is full of shitty little Merciers. It's hell. Oh but to cease!
Enough, said Camier. You look like a capital S. Ninety if a day.
Would I were, said Mercier. He wiped his hand on the seat of his trousers. He said, I'll start crawling any minute.
I'm off, said Camier.
Leaving me to my fate, said Mercier. I knew it.
You know my little ways, said Camier.
No, said Mercier, but I was counting on your affection to help me serve my time.
I can help you, said Camier, I can't resurrect you."

--Samuel Beckett, Mercier and Camier, Grove Press, p. 22

Into and out of this diminution comes a new grace, a refusal to give up on this tattered here and now as a land of opportunity:

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

--William Butler Yeats, from "Among School Children," 1927


If we could see below
The sphere of virtue, and each shining grace
As plainly as that above doth show;
This were the better sky, the brighter place.

God hath made stars the foil
To set off virtue; grief to set off sinning:
Yet in this wretched world we toil,
As if grief were not foul, nor virtue winning.

Hence, as Bawa once told me, "Despair was your way. If not for despair, worse would have happened to you. Now it is time to find a better way." Via despair, I practiced a stubborn intactness. The job was to always make the world from which we looked upward and outward a correlative of the original platform/departure point with "the better sky" of a "brighter place." Despite the current, sustained end-of-days tenor to earthly and human affairs, this birth/place still seems designed for maturity and the intransigence of my belief that "grief [sets] off sinning" and that "virtue [ought to be] winning." In other words, faith reduced to a naked hum of dis-content is still tropism and this a forward motion of faith. No wonder I take refuge in the rugged terrain of Japanese and Chinese poetry and these days the monastic disciplines of Herbert and other English metaphysicals.

For those of you who have been fasting this Ramadan, or wish you had done so, here is a poem about the accumulation of both fatigue and fathoming that usually occurs. This poem has a rugged, rigorous serenity. In other poems Herbert talks about everything that we experience or own being God's--even the nothingness we feel. As "His" property it is ordained--thus, Herbert says over and over, the highest extension of God and part of never-ending replenishment. I have found a more sinewy, non-sentimental splendor. At the end of this poem, we have the "gentle path" God of Christos--no more withered lands ("Throw away thy rod") and desolate cities ("Throw away thy wrath"). Pay no attention to that man on the cross ("Then let wrath remove; Love will do the deed: For with love, Stony hearts will bleed"). If nothing else, Ramadan tires us from and for wars. Drinks are on me!


Throw away thy rod,
Throw away thy wrath:
O my God,
Take the gentle path.

For my heart's desire
Unto thine is bent:
I aspire
To a full consent.

Not a word or look
I affect to own,
But by book,
And thy book alone.

Though I fail, I weep:
Though I halt in pace,
Yet I creep
To the throne of grace.

Then let wrath remove;
Love will do the deed:
For with love
Stony hearts will bleed.

Love is swift of foot;
Love's a man of war,
And can shoot,
And can hit from far.

Who can scape his bow?
That which wrought on thee,
Brought thee low,
Needs must work on me.

Throw away thy rod;
Though man frailties hath,
Thou art God:
Throw away thy wrath.

--George Herbert (1593-1633)

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A Poem: "Citizenship"

for Muhaiyaddeen Michael Green

--Don't I know you from somewhere, Sensi says.
--"The birds are still in flight," I answer
with Jack Spicer koan carried since college.
--Is that what you learned at Dover Beach?
--Yes, Sensi, first sighting after I lost my faith.
--How curious, grasshopper, faith that can be lost.
--I am always losing things.
--Thank Buddha, they are things you can find again
like car keys and birth certificates.
--You mean things left lying around the house, Sensi?
--Nothing is lost, just more or less salient
given the moment. What does Basho say?
"The ultimate jackpot:
Firefly breathes light on temple bell
to ring it."

--Grasshopper, what did you lose your faith in this time?
--My faith in a God whose name comes to mind
like the name of a prescription drug.
--A prescription for what?
--Memory loss.

--Is there any God other
than the one who can disappear
like a flock of birds headed south, Sensi asks.
--You mean the God that always returns?
--Ah, grasshopper, but does he have to go
for even a second?
--Not lately, Sensi.
--What is the name for this God?
--The Restorer, Sensi.
--I suppose one alias is as good as another.
Tell me another name this God goes by.
--The Beholder and Beholden, Sensi,
twins lost in the intransitive gaze
of all-consuming remembrance.

--Grasshopper, will we still meet like this
once the flames beckon to my bones
and you must find my original likeness?
--Your staff is always at hand, Sensi,
bringing the moon and mountains closer.
--You won't need a souvenir cup of ashes?
--The cup is for tea, Sensi, to drink to one another
to remind us the war is over.
--Some say it never started, grasshopper.
--Then they must be having a very good day.

--When you strike me gently with your staff, Sensi,
I feel like a fish nestled in the pelican's mouth
being carried in a candidacy for heaven.
--'You always hurt the one you love.'
--They say the Buddha presents the sword
that will kill him to his assassin.
--Remember to bow before using it, he says.
--Is that what your Buddha told you, Sensi?
--Mine took back the sword and asked,
'Don't you have a train to catch?'

--Grasshopper, what is the song the fish sings to the pelican?
--"Take My Heart With You Wherever You Go."
--Ah, the old songs. None like them.
Off with you now, no need to say goodbye.
--Sometimes when I'm walking, Sensi,
the mountain quotes you to me.
--Mountains are the last to go, grasshopper.
What words does the mountain attribute to me?
--"The birds are still in flight."

--David Federman, Ardmore, March 8, 2011

Thursday, March 03, 2011

From Freedom to Free-dumb of Speech

Yeah, I know I should be paying rapt attention to the latest developments in Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen. And I know I should be praying against any Franco-like defeat of the nascent republic in Libya by the same crushing force of mercenary thuggery as in Spain 1937. And, wait, let's not forget our daily bread of consternation for continuing Israeli war crimes in Gaza. Boy, if God put us here to find and drain aquifers of compassion, we're fulfilling our mission on earth and slowly turning our Earthen dessicated tear ducts into Martian deserts.

Nevertheless, the biggest fret on my mind this morning is landslide loss of reason and compassion manifest in Supreme Court's 8-to-1 landslide decision against Albert Snyder in his fight to stop criminal harassment by Christian zealots at GI funerals. If Baptists can wave "God hates fags!" signs with impunity across the street from churches where funeral services are being held for Iraq and Afghanistan war dead, why can professors be fired for calling Gaza bombings war crimes and genocide? When did the First Amendment cease to protect warranted outrage and intelligent dissent? When did it become thinly veiled, Supreme Court-guaranteed Second Amendment remedy used by hate groups to demonize foes and allow them to fire into dignified assemblies of those foes. Make no mistake. Westboro Baptist not only cried "Fire!" in a crowded theater; they set fire to it. Their hate speech was a form of open sniper fire. Albert Snyder was entitled to First Amendment protection more than Westboro Baptist Church because he was the victim of its harassment and rights abridgment. Hell, the church phoned the media and invited it to its hate fest.

I am disturbed by the inexorable encroachments of religious extremism and fundamentalism in our society. Bill O'Reilly called slain abortion doctor George Tiller "Tiller the Baby Killer" on 28 telecasts before someone took the hint and murdered him in his church. Of course, O'Reilly was quick to deplore the act and distance himself from any responsibility for it. But we all know in our heart of hearts that he is an accessory to the crime. My question remains: Was the unchecked use of incendiary language by a leading media figure a legal exercise of his First Amendment rights? If so, what does this say about freedom of speech? Is it only irrational hate-speech which enjoys this protection? I've seen Nobel Prize winners shamed into apologies for their angry condemnations of Gaza and West Bank indignities. Yet lawmakers openly hate-bait electorate to crimes against abortion clinics. They even legalize ostracism and hatred through the legislative process. When do words become bullets? When does slow, steady drip of contextualization for purposes of fear and prejudice further goals of demonization and incited hatred? When did the First Amendment become heavily-greased sliding board by which words are quickly converted into weapons used against the people and concepts they define?

We all feel an involuntary Pavlovian twinge of dread when we see or hear the words "Negro," "Jew" or "Communist." Call it historical conditioning. Now the twinges come with mere mention of "Muslim," "Gay," even "Zionist." I believe words that define ethnic groups or controversial philosophical concepts require semantic neutrality to function in rational discourse. The method of fascism is to deprive these essential classifying words of that neutrality by give them high hate-charges which magically desensitize users to the moral consequences of the demonization process.

Once weaponized, words for ethnic groups or key economic and philosophical concepts are put on a defensive from which they can never escape. How do we restore the near-sacred right of rational discourse to words once they are converted into highly charged units--either as epithets or euphemisms--of hate speech? Ideas like Medicare that on their own have vast majority support lose credibility once demonized with adjective of "Socialist," or "Marxist." So do those who espouse such ideas once they are labeled as "Socialists" or "Marxists."

To me, the Supreme Court has knowingly contributed to the weaponization of words that is being used to convert them from free to hate speech. What's a Jew being pursued by Nazis or a Palestinian pursued by Israelis going to call himself to merit re-humanization and the safety it brings? Demonization deprives the hated of rights to the refuge of synonyms such as "one of you," "humankind," "average Joes" to which most other groups have access. Fear-and-loathing semantics put groups and concepts into gulags that makes escape back to the mainland of rational discourse impossible.

The First Amendment was one of the fruits of the Enlightenment. Now it is being used as a cover for darkness.

One Family's Fight Against the Westboro Baptist Church
Mar 2, 2011 – 4:01 PM

Theunis Bates
On March 10, 2006, more than 1,200 people gathered at St. John's Catholic Church in Westminster, Md., to say their farewells to Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder. The 20-year-old Marine had died a week earlier, when his Humvee rolled over in western Iraq while he was manning the gun turret.

His father, Albert Snyder, later told the Marine Corps Times how beautiful it was to see strangers come out on the streets of Westminster and salute the funeral procession as it drove to a nearby veterans cemetery. "I've never seen a funeral like this in my life," Snyder said. "It was just amazing to see."

Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / MCT
Albert Snyder, center, supported by his attorney, Sean Summers, left, and Kansas City Attorney General Steve Six, speaks to the media after opening arguments in Snyder v. Phelps were made at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 6.
But the presence of seven uninvited guests from Kansas meant that his memories of that day are forever tarnished and led to a long legal battle that ended with defeat today in the U.S. Supreme Court for Snyder and his family.

A small group of religious extremists from the Westboro Baptist Church traveled 1,100 miles from their home in Topeka to stage a shocking celebration outside St. John's. The group of adults and children waved signs declaring "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "God hates fags" and shouted offensive slogans -- part of their bizarre gospel, which states that soldiers will continue to die so long as America tolerates gays, Jews and Catholics.

Snyder didn't see those hate-spewing protesters that day. The church windows had been blocked out and the Patriot Guard Riders -- a team of motorcyclists who attend military funerals around the country and separate the Westboro mob from mourners -- shielded the cemetery. But he saw their crude signs later during television news reports. And two weeks after the funeral, he read a rant titled "The Burden of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder" posted on the Westboro website.

The essay accused Matthew's parents of raising their son "for the devil" and teaching him about adultery and divorce. (His parents are separated.) It also said they supported "the largest pedophile machine in the history of the entire world, the Roman Catholic monstrosity." Snyder told CNN that he felt physically sick after read that online tirade.

The 55-year-old father of three has described himself in interviews as a quiet man who attempted to avoid confrontation all his life. But he wasn't prepared to stand by and allow the Phelps clan, who run the Westboro church, to slander his family. "They are very sick individuals," Snyder said to CNN. "It comes down to dignity. No one should be buried with what the Phelps did. Everyone deserves to be buried with dignity."

His fight back started straight away. On June 5, 2006, he sued the Westboro church for defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of distress. The suit didn't ask for money, but stated that the Phelps should pay emotional damages, Snyder's court costs as well as punitive damages for "reprehensible actions." Albert's plan was to cripple the church financially and put an end to its campaign of hate and bigotry.

A jury accepted Snyder's claim, and in 2007 his family was awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages, plus $8 million in punitive damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and intrusion upon seclusion. A year after that verdict, a federal judge in Baltimore reduced the total damages to $5 million.

But in 2009, that judgment was overturned by an appeals court in Richmond, Va., which ruled that Snyder would have to pay $16,000 toward the Phelps' legal costs. (Fox News' Bill O'Reilly offered to cover those costs.) Despite those massive setbacks, Albert refused to back down. His lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court, and in March 2010, it agreed to hear his case.

"[Albert] knows what Matt went through in Iraq, and he feels like he can't back down just because this is getting tough, because Matt didn't back down," Craig Trebilcock, one of two lawyers representing Snyder pro bono, told The Baltimore Sun last year. "He's tougher than when we started out. Kind of like something that's been hit so many times, it's become tougher."

Snyder hasn't yet commented on today's Supreme Court ruling -- his attorney Sean Summers said, "It's not the decision [Snyder] wanted -- he realized there was a fair risk that he might lose the case. Albert said last year that the tireless support he received from people across the country, and from his two daughters, inspired him to keep fighting." His legal bills have been covered thanks to donations from thousands of people, meaning that the battle against Westboro won't bankrupt the electronics salesman, who earns $43,000 a year.

"It kind of restores your faith in mankind after dealing with this wacko church," Snyder told The Baltimore Sun last March. "Win or lose, I'll know that I did everything I could for Matt, and for all the soldiers and Marines who are still coming home dying."