“The Just Compromise” by Adhya Kona
February 7, 2023
Plato once asserted that justice,
in the scheme of morality and goodness,
ultimately comes down to compromise.
We discussed it in class, so it must be true, but tell me, philosopher, if perhaps
I could arrange for a meeting with your dust and bones—
Is it a just compromise, every time the story plays out again
exactly the same?
Allow me to clarify which story. Every good student always comes prepared, after all.
Let us read through the generational documentation, inspect the records
of our minds and marrow
and choose our choiceless quandaries.
Let us, your audience, not bury the lead
the way we’ve buried ourselves.
Is it a just compromise every time a child is violated in their own home,
and must then continue greeting their abusers with respect for the rest of their life?
The only testimony given or taken thereafter will be the sound
of a heartbeat forced into stillness between their hands,
but is the silence that shrouds this voice and mind a contract, a law we write
and pass with something the opposite of jurisdiction?
A lack of votes cast or counted is its own kind of unanimity, is that it?
The problem is, even silence has an echo.
There is more than one kind of guilty plea.
Let us say that one such child was born and raised to be a mother.
Even if she was lucky enough to go to school the next day, or any day after—
The definition of literacy she will pass down will come down to nothing more than
the spaces between
the lines that go unspoken, the lines families draw in the earth around
their monthly bleeding and their innocence, like the bars of an iron cell.
But cells, any cell can be a jail. We pass them down in multitudes, the ignescent sentencings
we call childhoods. Imagine, upbringings where in the name of not making the same mistakes again,
every emotion leads to a hearing;
but the judge was never shown how to listen, and the defendant never learned how to identify their truth in a lineup
let alone how to speak it on the stand—
In lives like these,
if we double-cast our indoctrinations as judge and jury, doesn’t it then become true,
that we have no need for an executioner?
Is that the essence of righteousness?
Getting lives to withhold themselves?
After all, if we can just use the cells within ourselves
to lock the demons and the diatribes away, what need have we
to appeal our judgements, to be filled with anything other than the fears,
the anger, the shame that we were handed?
If everyone involved is only darkened by responsibility, and not in the skin,
can’t we still consider them clean?
Maybe if our girls can all be fair in conscience and complexion,
scared straight by bleach-smelling creams
and denial, then the rest of us can be saved.
You’re well-read, aren’t you? So consider this state of human nature and explain:
Why should a mother have to forgive destiny every day through her child’s life
and not her own?
Elaborate for me that much, how you in your Republic could presume to speak
for a world that is not so operatic, not so opulent in oral tradition as
the men and gods you aimed to inspire.
I’m not on the bailiff, but I am privy to the bargains made below
the benches that sit over my head;
the weights we deem, we’re told, are worth carrying,
and the lonely, allegedly lawful lives they lead us down.
This case might not be all mine to argue, but it is mine—
my right, and my duty to question.
With every prayer, with every admissible action—
Think, student of Socrates: did your mentor and nurturer ever tell you
that you were all he had?
That you were the closest thing he ever got to recourse?
Did he ever tell you that the great problems of your present arose from
dependency on the systems that you spent your whole life learning how
Did you, philosopher,
ever have to face the ideas of the past that challenged you alone;
have to realize, that you were raised by a collection of stories
for which you must now find a way to write a happy ending?
Can you, old man, comprehend a world where a child will never be just a child;
where women are women by the age of fifteen;
wherein even from the shelter of another land and another generation,
some verdicts are felt every day?
This story was shaped by the past, and
you are history, after all.
So though I don’t know you, still I must ask.
If these compromises are the substance of justice—
then is this form of justice really worth it?
This poem was written by Youth Poet Laureate cohort member Adhya Kona, who read this work to open our evening with SAL Presents speaker Reginald Dwayne Betts on Thursday, February 9, 2023, at Town Hall Seattle.