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The Hammer of Justice


—“Justice is what Love looks like in public.”
—Cornell West

Awake & listen! Now hear this!
I was born in Texas, grew up in Kentucky,
High school in Hawaii, never graduated
In Utah, moved to New York, never left
In California, my children’s names are Dakota
(For real) North, South, Carolina Louisiana Alabama
Alaska. I was trained to kill by the Poets, & ordered
To steal people’s languages & last names till I became
Citizen4. They call me Garner Brown & it’s not Global
Warming that makes me say #ICan’tBreathe

It’s the way the fourteenth line
Of the sonnet closes in, death
By one’s own hand. To State the Union
Is to make the Poem that Heals.

Papa Susso and I were sitting in a coffee shop
Drinking some of Papa’s famous Chinese tea.
Justice was with us, having a hard time of it
Drinking with her blindfold on.
You’d think after all this time, Papa was saying,
You’d be used to it -- sugar’s at four o’clock.
It’s not easy, said Justice, treating people equally,
Dripping tea down her long white robes.

O Justice! Bring down your Hammer!
Break the system of patrimony
Use your gavel to unravel the inequity
Bring down your Hammer for Liberty

Justice was in a funk. She had an idea
But the idea was just an idea.
It was clear that the scales were weighted to the males
It was clear that the white people had the bulk of dough
She started in on Ferguson, people searching
For an answer in a system where you always lose
Then she talked about Selma’s Bloody Sunday.
Papa, she said, I think I know what it is –
What is it? asked Papa. It’s Reparations, said she.

O Justice! Bring down your Hammer!
Break the system of inequality
Use your scales to derail hypocrisy
Give the country back the currency of equity

Yes, we love the Constitution
But the white men who wrote it owned slaves
Yes we Declare our Independence
But women had to fight for the right to vote
So let’s rewind the time machine of History
Start with all humans getting Human Rights

Reparations through education
Payback time in the USA
Take your blindfold off, Justice
It’s time for you to see
Reparations for the generations,
Generations -- descendants of slaves
Because the slaves built the country.
But they never got paid.

O Justice! Bring down your Hammer
Smash the system built on slavery
Let your thunder bring wonder
Let our country be the place it wants to be

Just like John Henry brought down his hammer
Showed us humans could beat the machine
Just like that carpenter brought down her hammer
Making art of nails and wood
Just like the judge calls the court to order
Justice – the jury votes for good

And here in this place of poets
Where language needs to sing and mean
People take out your hammers
Hammer out Justice
Hammer out Freedom
Papa hammer on your kora. Sing, Papa, sing!

Rethink your life when you hear racist humor
Don’t laugh along with the sexist joke
Fight for reparations
Can’t hide the history of slavery
The triumph of capitalism
Wasn’t built on smoke

O Justice! Bring down your Hammer
It’s time to turn things around
O Justice! Bring your Hammer down

–Bob Holman


Bob Holman

Bob Holman is an American poet and poetry activist, most closely identified with the oral tradition, the spoken word, and poetry slam.


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2015

All Issues