One Nation, Under

by Katherine Russell Issue: Fall 2018 Special Issue on Justice
We aren’t the first.
The Romans ransacked Jerusalem,
stripped her temples, the
insides taken as tokens;
believers have watched their
cathedrals dismantled,
Van Gogh burned, the
Amber Room peeled from
gold to bones.

Consider yourself a witness:
at many the sacred things we hold
there is someone laughing,
toying with the pin
in a grenade.

The whims of the powerful
are not deterred by
human walls or our collective
breath rising, wishing.
Still, we sing and howl
for the things we have built
and the things we destroy!
Don’t forget, even as Timbuktu
was looted, librarians tucked
ancient manuscripts
into steel lockers;
they risked death
to smuggle their heritage
down the Niger to safety.

We hope if we are
fearsome enough we might
mitigate the destruction
for a twitch in mankind’s existence,
or we might cause the right
kind of destruction,
like Yanks shivering behind
their muskets, withered
cloth unraveled from their
blue feet, turning
white snow to
red –
don’t forget
their footprints
come Spring,
and many of them
never knew if they won.

We are not the first,
and we too can cup our most
precious dust particles,
our softest marble, our
silky pages and between them
the ideas we’ve pressed to
crisp and color—what we’d die for:
our beliefs in what
help us
survive in crowded spaces;
we can cradle them so tightly
in our hands
and run through the smoke
until our silhouettes
are indiscernible
from the cloud

and what is left
is left.

Katherine Russell

Katherine Russell is the author of four published books, including a collection of poems on coming of age with cystic fibrosis titled Shapes of Water. Her most recent work is a photo-essay documentary book called COMING HOME: Reentry after Incarceration, which is a compilation of interviews and photographs on the experiences of formerly incarcerated individuals. Other poems of Russell's have appeared in the Love146 anthology, Down Dirty Word, and the Urban Magazine of Arts. She maintains a blog at, and meanwhile enjoys her job in justice work, hiking with her dogs, and spending time with her husband.