King on the Brooklyn Bridge

King on the Brooklyn Bridge

The Façade of the Kings
County Courthouse
on Court Street’s adorned
with a frieze of Moses
Upholding two stones — the tablets,
The law, the code — as though
He sees the golden bull
on Broadway to the west
and is just about to dash them down
to the bed of the East River
Then, a little further, on
the Brooklyn Bridge,
you see them again
the Gothic stone-clad arches

Cathedral — to the Nomos
Principle of force; striving
to capture, and master
The universe
With its justifications,
its sovereign laws,
Unchecked by the just

And code’s from codex, from caudex
For tree trunk — the two trees
Of the garden
Just like the two “cheeks” of the law
The tree of life, or Physis — physician
The healer, and care, not simply repair,
As the ethicist says
Is justice
A word that derives from the Vedic
Yos, meaning health

And the tree of dogma
Of knowledge of custom
Adherence to order
The law as dead letter, inflexible, stiff
The staff of the shepherd —
Unchecked by the serpent
Of the healer/physician, Asclepius;
Physis and Nomos —
From nemein, to capture
And lord over land
And hoard and expand, to command
And dis-ease,
domesticate and desecrate;
The shepherd, the order, exploiter,
Said King,
Writing from his Birmingham cell,
Despite its appearance, is not law at all
But force, and destruction

Shepherd and healer, however,
Are one
With Physis the code that,
Unlocking the Nomos,
Dismantles the engine,
And liberates Eros, and regeneration

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at and on twitter @elliot_sperber