Poems of Cruelty and Compassion
Poem with Too Much Rope in It
After the opening of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice
I’m thinking of humans who cut the testicles off other humans, who string up
their fellow humans and laugh. Of people who set other people alight for the crime of
uppity, for the crime of gay, for the crime of, I refuse. I’m worrying about
my fellow humans, who can hang a pregnant woman upside down, disembowel her,
leave the fetus dangling—
I’m thinking of the many loving humans I know. Sheltering humans. I’m worrying
about how many people after the war still thought Hitler’s big mistake was
not killing all the Jews. Wondering, too, about those who hid entire families in
a few small rooms, risking the murder of their own. How do we reconcile this—
the fervidly brave, the fervidly cruel. Happy informers. The disbelieving informed. Them
and Us. Who did this to you? I want to ask victim and perpetrator—
I want it to be someone’s fault: twisted leaders, bad parents, beatings.
Or maybe it’s a Darwinian experiment. Something coiled in our genes. Here are
the conditions: let’s see who lives, let’s see who fouls their soul. Either way,
I walk down the street with affable people who would do these things—dangle
suffocating humans from branches, drag them behind jouncing pickup trucks and laugh,
roast alive the very humans who maybe—in another life—they dearly love.
Is there a life in which I’m laughing along with them?
Tomorrow, my father gets his foot
cut off—too much pain for too long—
time for another divorce.
For years, he declared
he was too old for this.
Maybe he was too young.
What a shiver—sickness,
canes. There’s been talk
of a cut above the knee—
like the hem on a sexy skirt.
But he will insist, he says,
on below the knee. March—
a bit of snow clings
to the ground, but in his garden
he’s planted spinach already.
By my front steps this morning,
the hyacinths just beginning
to bulge out of the ground
remind me of knees—
how green and incipient
we can always be.
Below the knee—
all the things
he has done,
has not done,
can still do,
on his knees.