Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Bending the Arc Toward Justice"

This poem came out of the August 5, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "Conflicting Obligations/Oaths" square in my 7-30-14 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Walking the Beat.

"Bending the Arc Toward Justice"

Autumn leaves rustled as
Dale and Kelly walked
around Jamaica Pond.

They spotted Johnny Long,
who was back in uniform,
but still seeming troubled.
He veered off his own path
to join the two women.

Dale let him ramble
about the beautiful day
and the color of the leaves.
She commented idly
on a flock of ducks
winging into the pond.

After a while, Johnny
wound his way to the
matter at hand.
"There's a guy I know,
he's a good cop but
I think he's bending the rules."

"Mmm," Dale said.

"Maybe a little too far,
sometimes," Johnny said.

"That can happen," Dale said.
"What are you going to do about it?"

"I don't know," Johnny said miserably.
"He's putting away a lot of bad guys.
That's a good thing. But the way
that he's doing it is ... not so good.
A lot of people in the department
already don't like me very much,
and IA hates me."

"That's a challenge," Dale said.

Johnny kicked an acorn
so that it skittered down the path.
"If I say anything, it'll make
my work life a lot worse.
But if I don't say anything,
then he'll keep doing it, and
that could hurt the community."

"True," Dale said.

"It's really hard to tell
what's true and what's not,"
Johnny grumbled.

"I always found the partial truths
to be the worst," Dale said,
hands echoing her words.
"Things that are part truth, part lie.
Things are that sometimes true
but sometimes false. Stretchy truths.
Rigid rules that don't even care about
what's true or false, those are trouble.
I learned to cope, though."

"I wish I knew how you did it,"
Johnny said, looking at Dale.

"Watch and learn, mostly," Dale said.
"You can learn a lot from your
current situation if you pay attention."

"It's hard when I've got one set of loyalties
to my fellow officers and another to the citizens.
What do you think?" Johnny asked.
"You served a lot longer than me."

Dale gave him a stern look.
"You didn't take an oath
to keep people happy, Johnny.
You took an oath to keep them safe."

"Yeah," Johnny said,
his shoulders hunching
under his jacket.

Kelly joined in then,
having caught snippets
of the conversation
from reading lips and
Dale's occasional translations.

The arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends towards justice,
Kelly signed,
and Dale relayed her words to Johnny.
It doesn't work on its own, though.
Someone has to bend it.
Someone has to aim it

"I'm nobody special,"
Johnny muttered.

"Doesn't matter," Dale said.
"You're the one who's here."

Kelly added in graceful signs,
Remember what made you want
to become a policeman in the first place

That seemed to lift Johnny's spirits a bit.
Leaves fluttered across the path
and settled into the pond.

"The law only covers the rules
that are written down," Dale said.
"The unwritten rules are
up to the community as a whole.
Know what tools you have in your box,
and when to use each of them."

"Thanks," Johnny said.
"It helps to talk with someone
who's got more experience,
when I'm not sure what to do."

"You already know what you need to do,
Johnny Long. Now go do it," Dale said.

He gave her half a smile, then
jogged away down the curving path.

* * *


The "arc of the moral universe" is a famous quote, which invites people to consider their own role in it.

Internal Affairs is tasked with handling police misconduct. This creates a lot of tension.

Giving advice often amounts to helping people take responsibility and make their own decisions. Know how to give advice that can actually help. Notice that Dale does very little in the way of telling Johnny what to do. Mostly she encourages him to talk it out, and shares a few personal insights, but reflects the decision-making back on him.
Tags: community, cyberfunded creativity, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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