It’s said that Lincoln, asked
If God was on the Union’s side,
Replied that he only worried
Whether the North was on God’s side.
It’s a nice distinction often adduced
To show a finely-calibrated mind
(He’d taught himself Euclid’s geometry);
Still, one wonders if in those dark moods
The 16th President was prone to suffer—
If he wondered whether there was any side at all;
If it didn’t boil down to
Fighting over semantic differences—
“Property rights” in a land appropriated
From people who never thought they owned the land.
Wage slaves in the North, Black slaves in the South
And the bulwark of the Idea
Pulsing madly West and South,
After the gold at Sutter’s Mill,
After Caribbean sugar,
Both sides seeking to enforce their will
On “savages,” “redskins,” “heathen,” “darkies.”
This is not to argue
There’s no right or wrong;
Beyond those moral apperceptions
That make us either this or that,
We find a universe of constant flux
Under a palette of exploding stars.
God, then, so far beyond
“Our poor powers to add or detract,”
Even the word “ineffable” won’t do
(Implying we might get there some day!).