The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Poetic Response

This poem was originally published in Sojourners Magazine, inspired by James Cone’s book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

We shudder at the inhumanity,
the crafted cruelness of that sickening show:
the stripped humiliation, blasphemy
of beaten flesh, death’s agonies stretched slow
by fellow men created in God’s image,
turned terrorists, enslaved to sin’s strange fruit.
How could they mock the marred and lifeless visage
of God’s own child? His axe is at the root!

We tremble more: If we were in that crowd,
would we have spoken up? or wept? or cared?
Would we have stood against those winds or bowed?
Or did we lead the mocking? “Were you there…?”
the Negro spiritual demands—and, trying,
we answer “no,” but know that we are lying.

Michael Stalcup is a Thai-American poet living in Bangkok, Thailand. His poems have been published in Commonweal, Red Letter Christians, Sojourners, and elsewhere. He co-teaches Spirit & Scribe, a workshop helping writers to integrate spiritual formation and writing craft. Find more of his work at and on Instagram @michaelstalcup.

You may also want to read

#BlackLivesMatter: Debunking 10 Myths

By Leroy Barber
My heart dropped as I watched the face of Michael Brown’s mother and listened to her screams as she looked upon her son lying in the street, not being allowed to approach his body.

Black Spirituality & Black Liberation Webinar

By Andre Henry and Cole Arthur Riley
Spirituality has always been relevant to the quest for Black freedom. But sometimes the relationship between the two is complicated by Christian traditions influenced by colonization.