“Thou shalt not”
Doesn’t really leave us much
in the way of wiggle-room
So we play with that last word in the commandment.
Because “murder” gives us the leeway
to continue killing
when it’s convenient:
When we will benefit from death
in newly-accessible goods
in suddenly-attainable power;
When we use killing to control
those around us –
– easier by far than controlling ourselves.
“Murder” is that which happens to us
that which we cannot justify
by some dispelled fear
or righteous anger.
“Murder” is unreasonable, cruel,
the taking of innocent life,
valuable life, or maybe
life that looks, somehow, like ours.
And “thou shalt not,” we cry,
in the echoes of “Why did you shoot me?”
“Stop shooting”, “I can’t breathe”.
After silent hands raised in calm obedience
to a lesson taught by parents who weep
to teach it.
“Thou shalt not,” unless you feel your own life,
your own self, threatened
by twelve-year-old men playing
with the normal violence of their lives;
by faces you most often see as targets
through the crosshairs.
It isn’t “murder” if the victim wasn’t innocent:
lily-white and pure as snow,
child-like and angelic in face and speech,
as they cry to us for help.
“Thou shalt not,” we cry
in irony-free certainty:
‘Thou shalt not,” but if you do, the penalty
is death, which is not murder, though intentional;
an acceptable death: calm, reasoned,
which is different, you know.
Because it is a death that will make us
feel safer, despite the statistics;
knowing killers have been mur-
no, that’s the wrong way ’round.
And it is not “murder” when we discuss it first –
-“it” the crime and “it” the criminal,
now one and the same,
sentenced by twelve who don’t consider themselves peers,
covetous of their privileged humanity,
determining the terms of life and death.
“Thou shalt not,” we cry,
until we cannot recognize ourselves
in the one humiliated,
carrying the means of his own death;
the human reduced to the sum of his crimes
Then we shout, instead,
“Killing is justified!”
“Killing is justice!”
Then we should instead,
For we shall not murder – no, of course not.
We are not unreasonable,
not cruel or unusual –
– unfortunate, that. Unusual
is the person who stands, weeping
at the foot of the cross.
For all the “shalt not”s we have manipulated,
all the innocents tarnished by our fear,
all the sinners judged
by those who judge themselves worthy,
all of the humanity forgotten, denied –
– as it crucifies itself so that “thou shalt not”
but I still can.
Because it isn’t “murder” if it doesn’t hurt me,
if it’s not my body on the cross.
It isn’t “murder” if I cannot recognize the image
reflected back through one-way glass
from curtained execution-room sterility.
It isn’t “murder” when our sense of order
is upset by disruptive life
or the fear of life’s disruptions.
It isn’t murder until we ourselves stand convicted
under the weight of our own sentence, our own phrasing;
staggering to the top of the hill we have created,
out of blind-justice-reason and the illusion of balanced scales.
We slip in the blood of countless “Thou Shalt Not”
and wonder: who will weep for me?