Published on Academy of American Poets (

It’s Important I Remember that the Moral Arc of the Universe Bends—

but it doesn't break, and neither breaks toward justice
nor away from it. It simply bends, as the bow does
before propelling the arrow where it may, agnostic
to everything but flight. I don't mean to make morality
a weapon in this way, but it already is one and has been
for some time. The shackles, after all, were explained
as saving us from ourselves, our naked savagery,
though it was their whip that licked us and left a kind
of tactile text on our bodies. The Bible will have a man
beating on someone as easily as it will have another
taking one, turning the other cheek, civilly disobedient
even when the bombs blow up in their church, not to say
saying no to violence isn't commendable, just to say
a strong case can be made for cracking a skull or two
like an everyday egg in hopes whatever golden light
resides inside shines through, throughs the crimson tide
for the rest of time so the tide will, mercifully, recede.


Copyright © 2021 by Cortney Lamar Charleston. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 3, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“One of the cultural hallmarks of my country is a pervasive and pacifying narrative of progress which is buttressed by the belief that the United States is inherently good and virtuous despite whatever crimes it has committed and is committing presently. Of course, this erases the actual labor required to build a just and equitable society and it likewise erases the people who provide that labor, on the ground, in the proverbial trenches. In the absence of their efforts, the only thing guaranteed to occur is continued violence against marginalized people—justice will not be thrust forward by a myth. In this poem, I’ve allowed myself, however briefly, to contemplate a different choice for the marginalized, through the lens of the Black experience, that perhaps is the only that could force a confrontation with the truth my country has conveniently and consistently eluded. One can debate if it’s the wisest choice, but it is an understandable one, even Fair.”
Cortney Lamar Charleston


Cortney Lamar Charleston

Cortney Lamar Charleston is the author of Telepathologies (Saturnalia Books, 2017).

Date Published: 2021-05-03

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