The Just Compromise
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 a girl of color is violated in her own home,
and must then continue greeting her abusers with respect for the rest of her life?
Is the silence that shrouds her voice and mind a contract, a law we write
and pass with the absence of communication?
A lack of votes cast is its own kind of unanimity, is that it?
Why must culture and societal norm be both a set of colors and an ineffable fabric covering;
a dust jacket to hide the figures of young women
and a curtain to draw over society’s eyes?
Does our definition of literacy come down to nothing more than
the spaces between
the lines we refrain from speaking, the lines families draw in the earth around
her monthly bleeding and her rights, like the bars of an iron cell?
Cells of a jail, the cells we pass down like genetic traditions of smaller size—
If we can just use the ones within ourselves
to lock the demons and the diatribes away, what need have we to convince
the powers beyond our reach
to give us the space and equity we plead and pay for?
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?
If everyone involved is only darkened by responsibility, and not in the skin,
can we still consider them clean?
Maybe if our girls can all be fair in complexion, whitened
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 outraged, but what I am is privy to the bargains made below
the tables 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 story might not be all mine to tell, but it is mine—
my right, and my duty to question.
Because when Virtue’s hands are so shadowed by lost dreams and personhood—
how can we behold it blind, make our every action a prayer for it as we do?
Think, student of Socrates: did your mentor and nurturer ever tell you that you were
all he had?
Did you ever have to face the ideas of the past that challenged you alone,
have to teach and take care of him from the beginning the way
he would’ve done for you?
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
Can you, old man, comprehend a world where a child is not 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 life — like philosophy — is just as much about questions as it is answers,
and 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?
By Adhya Kona
then is this form of justice really worth it?
This poem speaks about a type of injustice that is a part of both my
family and cultural history, but beyond that affects countless of other girls,
women and families as well. Women who bear the wounds of abuse are made
to take them silently, but that silence isn’t something that ends with the edges
of their bodies and minds; it becomes a shroud wide enough to settle over
their whole lives. This is a poem for the daughters who were told they
couldn’t have sleepovers because of the possibility of being violated and
repeating history, and just as much for all the mothers who had to say those
words to their children.
Adhya is an academic writer, creative prose enthusiast and poet whose work often reflects the narratives that are undeniable as a young person of color and a child of immigrants discovering their voice in a changing world. She is a current member of the 2022-23 Seattle Cohort of Youth Poet Laureates, has mentored the University of Washington’s Writer’s Workshop, and her work has been previously published in the Prometheus Unbound: 2021 print anthology as well as Embodied Experience: A Community Dialogue by the Henry Art Gallery. When not writing, she can be found overworking her Spotify account, adding to her endless book collection, and reading her work onstage.