1116: Mercy by Dessa

20240513 Slowdown

1116: Mercy by Dessa


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Growing up, in response to some slight, my family members often uttered the phrase, “I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget,” which means, they wished not to toss away lessons about the potential cruelty of people and their own vulnerability.

For years, I’ve mulled over that phrase. Personally, I want to transcend rising anger whenever harm is recalled. That is, I attempt to summon my better self in reaction to hurt done to me. I want to keep my life drama free, unfettered by life’s “slings and arrows.” And, people typically view me as a chill person; forgiveness allows me to stay on brand.

But easier said than done, right? I’ve been wounded by gossip, by careless partners, insecure coworkers, and generally, spiteful people. In each instance, I’ve wanted to follow this advice of a friend — he likes to keep fresh what others have done to him because, as he said, “It’s the engine to my success. The best revenge there is.”

I never took to the attitude of I’ll show them. It concedes that those people, people who did not think enough of me to take care of my feelings, are still in my life, in an unhealthy manner, subconsciously controlling my actions.

My success is not going to suddenly prove me worthy of love in their eyes. Will they have thought better of that moment when they scarred me? Maybe. Will they think me more intelligent than they initially granted? Possibly. But, truth is, I am healed when I no longer care to have their acceptance or validation.

Today’s poem brilliantly tallies the price of arriving at an inner calm. Where forgiveness is pursued, solace and hope emerge as anchors to a greater empathy for others and a better understanding of human actions.

by Dessa

To forgive
is to summon your character,
red-eyed and sober,
and command it to behave 
against the current of your instinct,
to reach up and
take down your own flag.

To forgive
is to break the wishbone of a living bird
who consents to the procedure,
and volunteers to stay awake
to save on anesthesia.

It is to make a snowangel in the sawdust
beneath the bench where they are shaving down your pride.

To arrive at Mercy,
you pass through a tiny wooden door
whose polished knob is the head of a brass pin.
You do not enter whole;
you undo yourself,
pass yourself in pieces
to be reassembled on the other side.

Your vertebrae go singly
to be rethreaded on the wire of your spine.

The larger bones are first
reduced by fire.

It happens in the early morning hours,
often in a sudden, soft collapse.
It happens when your lungs are empty and
your heart is still between contractions
and you feel a cracking like a breaking paper dam,
some pain then swift release.
And there you’ll have it,
every grievance
unspooling at your feet
shining like cassette tape.

I don’t know how many
have done it and survived—
they don’t come back to say—
but I have seen them through the keyhole
swaying, mute, serene
with folded hands and upturned faces,
like ragdolls assembled by the blind.

“Mercy” by Dessa from A POUND OF STEAM © 2013 Dessa. Published by Rain Taxi. Used by permission of the poet.