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,

wheelchairs, walkers,

canes. There’s been talk


of complications,

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,


could do,

can still do,

on his knees.