What do you do in the face of cruelty?
Hiroshima — “her skin came off in gloves”
I see the knee on the neck on the asphalt
the indignity, the taste of street, of centuries.
Brutality not my abstraction, but his breath
or lack thereof. The snail shell crushed on
the sidewalk, underneath the giant foot
of my gentle love who walked carelessly
as I do through every conversation, every
impatience, when I cut in line on the day
we evacuated university at the post office
because I believed the line should be organized
otherwise, because I believed myself better,
and I atone — but who’s to say he didn’t?
Truman, the policeman. But harm is harm
and in a sense we must give up the question
of evil (and not because it is intractable) —
it is irrelevant: we only confront suffering. No
policy solution, no neat conclusion, only the
birdsong, the smell of hot jasmine, heady
in the early summer heat. We are blessed
with imperfect memories, a birdlike darting
attention. Even maimed, we (some, like me,
only spiritually) can only suffer for so long.
Avital Balwit studies political and social thought and cognitive science at the University of Virginia. She writes short stories, personal essays, and poetry. She has been a finalist in essay contests for The New York Times and The Economist, and she won the Atlantic’s 2020 instagram poetry contest.