By Kate Clinton on July 07, 2008

Trifecta news day – the man who played Bozo the Clown died; a transgendered man in Oregon gave birth to a baby girl; Jesse Helms died of “natural causes” in North Carolina at the age of 86.

The man who told his friend Orrin Hatch that he was going to sing Dixie to Carol Moseley Braun until she cried, who delivered his state to a lagging Ronald Reagan in the Republican primary, who loved all things Pinochet, who chaired the Foreign Relations Committee, who was a vile and constant homophobe has finally died.

In 1984, I went to Raleigh-Durham to perform at a benefit to raise funds to help defeat Helms in his third Senate re-election bid. Liz Snow, an old friend from Syracuse, New York, who worked at Ladyslipper Records, picked me up at the airport and briefed me on Helms sleaze campaign stories as we drove to the hall.

As we clunked along in Liz’s mini-truck, in the middle of a particularly horrific race-baiting story, at the last second we saw what we both thought was a huge log across the road. A second before we hit it, we saw that it was a huge snake. Liz gunned it and screamed, “It’s Jesse Helms!” We flew through the air like a Dukes of Hazzard car chase scene. Helms was a snake, a huge speed bump to progressives in the South and the nation. Good-bye, Jesse Helms. Let’s hear it for natural causes.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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