The Work That Calls Us

When I was six, my brother three, we took
a walk and found, one block from home,
a mound of shiny silver coins lying
on the parking strip beside our street.
We stuffed our pockets and our hands,
hurried home to show. Dad was not pleased:

“That’s someone else’s money. Take it back,
knock on nearby doors, try to find the owner.”
When no one claimed the coins, we set the gleaming
silver back in grass. Never knew what happened.
It was not ours, we learned, and had no right
to keep it. In 1966 when MLK led marches

in Chicago, I was there, witness to brutality.
When Stokely Carmichael told the mostly white
members of the Quaker Meeting House that blacks
would take over civil rights leadership, I witnessed.
And now again I witness: Tarnish dulls our nation.
What might be bright pattern lies beneath an oxide

formed of our ignoring. Beggars for justice, we
swerve away from overwhelming need, prefer to touch
what comforts, forget that trees are trunk, limbs, leaves
but also roots that grow in ground. Knowing much
is needed diminishes our small flourishes, what
we offer less than our intentions. Yet, the fierce

urgency of now calls us from despair, urges us claim
no more than our share. Lucent with renewal, we will
not ignore the damage deepening in our land. Dry
self-seeking needs love to moisten us to malleable
shape. Hands together, pushing on the universe’s
moral arm, we can help it bend toward justice.

--Susan Shaw Sailer

Written for the Morgantown Seventh Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration, “Hand in Hand, Together We Can,” 2013. Three phrases in the final two stanzas are drawn from writings and speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.