An Indivisible Toledo friend, Cherie Spino, a dedicated and indefatiguable resister, posted a poem by Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things, on facebook. She needed a break, she said. There's so much sad news out there, so much to do to bring change and to save a democracy under siege. "Take a deep breath, and read."
I had not thought about Wendell Berry, the award-winning poet from Kentucky, in a long time. The last I recalled, with Cherie's prompting, is that he won a National Humanities Medal and gave the annual Jefferson Lecture a few years ago, both august public humanities events I have followed since I worked for the DC and Florida state programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The poem Cherie posted refreshed my memory and took me online to do a little research. Wendell Berry was born in 1934 and lives on the farm in Henry County, Kentucky, that has been in his family for five generations. His writings evoke a strong sense of place, full of images of the Kentucky River and the hill farms of central Kentucky. He is an advocate for sustainable agriculture and small farming, locality and agrarian values, in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson and Henry David Thoreau.
I took myself away from the news du jour, away from writing, and spent an afternoon reading Berry's poetry. I ordered a few books. Berry's poems will be there when I need a break from resisting, marching, making phone calls, protesting. Not that what I do compares to Cherie, who is on the front lines with Indivisible and other resisters, like Molly Reed, 24/7. I swear, these two women keep me going.
I met Cherie at a workshop she was conducting to get signatures on a petition to put an anti-gerrymandering issue on the Ohio ballot in November. She said we were just starting and needed 300,000 signatures. That was daunting! Her optimism moved me. I did what I could, which wasn't much, but Cherie has been at it for months and months. These devoted activists have almost reached their goal. Imagine the work. And it's only one of the many political action strategies that resisters like Cherie and Molly are involved in every single day.
Whatever helps these resisters carry on is a good thing. If it's a poetry break, even better! "Take a breath, and read," Cherie says. It is wonderful advice. "Though I am dark, there is vision around me./Though I am heavy there is flight around me."
Two more poems by Wendell Berry
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it...
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides...
The river will run
clear, as we will never know it...
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields...
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its reality.
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
"I am not ashamed." A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.