By Contributor on December 05, 2013

By Donald Smyth

Peals of thunder rolled across a pewter sky. Clouds

confused whether to drop rain or scud to the Alps.

 

The frost-haired man, frail from nearly three decades

of incarceration, gait unsteady, walked along

 

the carpeted aisle. A smile erupted on Nelson Mandela's

face as ovation rocked the auditorium of the Palais

 

du Nations in Geneva during the 1990 International

Labor Conference with delegates from some 150 countries.

 

Only four months before, the anti-apartheid South

African leaders was released from the Robben Island

 

prison. After the applause faded and he stood

at the podium, something startling happened:

 

Suddenly, the skylight above the crowded hall, dark

until now, glowed with sunlight, flooding everything.

 

The rays of light symbolized Mandela's long journey

from the darkness and gloom of 27 years in jail.

 

From the balcony, I scribbled notes as if I'd seen

a miracle. I was editor of a journal on international labor issues

 

covering the proceedings in which he praised

the delegates for strongly supporting his release

 

from prison. Mandela's voice roared, "Let us walk

the last mile together.... Let us turn to reality

 

the glorious vision of a South Africa free of racism,

free of racial antagonisms among our people...

 

no longer skunk of the world." As delegates

and spectators streamed from the hall,

 

the skylight glowed like a lode of gold.

Donald Smyth is a Maryland-based poet whose work has appeared in The Progressive.

Photo: Wikimedia commons.

Section: 

Topics: 

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

More

Subscribe to The Progressive and Get A Free 2015 Calendar

John Nichols on the luckiest break Democrats have had in the 2014 election cycle...

The Ebola crisis has revealed severe deficiencies in how the American health care system works, experts say.

Earlier this year, Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus declared that the 2014 midterm elections were shaping...

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).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project

Newsletter