Tag Archives: quandaries and rants

The Free South Africa Bridge

The Free South Africa Bridge  —by Jinny Batterson,  December, 2013

(As the world mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela and celebrates his long and productive life, there is still much work to do.)

Nelson Mandela has left us, at least physically.
This master builder of bridges has gone home
To somewhere where bridges are no longer needed.

During long years of imprisonment,
He learned to build bridges with his fellow inmates
And with his jailers.  He studied the languages
And customs of his supposed enemies—
Post-colonialist British expatriates, Afrikaners.

Somehow, on his release, he got many,
These same Brits and Afrikaners, as well as
Zulus, Swazis, Tswanas, expatriate Indians and Chinese,
To consider themselves South Africans first,
Among their many allegiances and tribes.

Richmond, VA, has many physical bridges. The one I remember best
Was built over an expressway that had divided neighborhoods
For the benefit of faster travel to/from the suburbs
And points further away.

This bridge joined a blighted area
Of public housing with a struggling commercial
Section just west of a similarly struggling downtown
That was filled mostly with government and institutional
Buildings which emptied quickly at 5 each evening.

Builders had added high angled chain link fences at the
Sides of the bridge—to prevent anyone from throwing
Bottles or debris off the bridge onto the cars speeding
By below, away from the city’s problems.

During the 1980’s, a frustrated bridge-user scrawled
Onto the chain link, in big spray-painted letters,
“Free South Africa.”
For many years the slogan stayed there,
Unseen by I-64/95 traffic, unwashed by graffiti removers.

The bridge has since been replaced by a more modern
Span, but deep fissures remain in metro Richmond’s social fabric.
Perhaps Madiba from his perch wherever can appreciate
The irony of a free South Africa and a Richmond still
Badly in need of more bridge builders.

Born After the War

Born After the War

(“Hiroshima Day”, August 6, is not much celebrated in the U.S., though  I’ve been told that in Japan it is the occasion for solemn remembrances. In 2000, I had a chance to visit Hiroshima and see the A-Bomb dome, the Peace Museum, and the millions of paper cranes, symbols of peace and hope, sent there by school children from around the world. This musing was prompted by that visit.)

On its anniversary a decade ago, I gave a short commemorative presentation about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima–the first use of atomic weapons–on August 6, 1945.  My audience was attentive.  We all squirmed uncomfortably. After the subsequent silence, people began sharing their stories. Some older attendees had known A-bomb survivors personally.  Most remembered exactly what they were doing when they got news of the bombing–like those of my generation remember the JFK and MLK assassinations, or my children remember the Challenger spaceship disaster.

I’ve sometimes felt both gifted and cheated by the timing of my appearance in 1947, when the worst of  World War II damage was starting to be hidden beneath sprouting weeds and aid programs, although the aftershocks were felt in the growing belligerence among former allies that later came to be called the “Cold War.”  During a 1950’s period of postwar U.S. uneasiness,  hunts were carried out for Communists, domestic and foreign. Perhaps their existence would help explain why, after our recent great resounding victories, so many felt so empty.

One of my grandfathers, the Rebel one, was also born not long after a war, in 1869. His early childhood was spent in a house occupied by Union troops who’d temporarily expropriated a Southern landscape almost as desolate as postwar Hiroshima.  As his brain softened with age, he sometimes relived that childhood, becoming again the scared white boy who dreaded the “n— down the road who carried a pistol for me.”

Sometimes I wonder about the wisdom of those of us born after wars.  We are often the pampered progeny of parents determined to keep us out of harm’s way. They don’t want us to suffer through what they did.  Laudable as their efforts were and are, there are downside risks. Absent at least some suffering, we are all too apt to blunder through life, expecting all obstacles to be removed, planting the seeds of the next wars by blaming each other when stubborn boulders of prejudice, ego and ideology refuse to budge without great effort.

Job’s Wife

Job’s Wife    –by Jinny Batterson

(written in January, 1998, after viewing an exhibit of
William Blake’s illustrations for the Biblical book of Job)

Sometimes it bothers me
What little mention
I get in the Bible.
The one verse in my voice,
At the beginning
Of Job’s story,
Is shrewish
And nagging:
“Do you still hold fast
To your integrity?
Curse God, and die.”

Had I been around
When the scribes wrote
My husband’s story,
I’d have gently reminded them
How much they were leaving out.

I doubt they’d have listened.
Writers and media folks typically
Want “man bites dog”
Tales, or hyperbole.

Gentleness, quiet persistence,
Lie mainly between the lines
Of Biblical lore.

So we get chapter
After chapter
Of Job’s longwinded
Friends arguing–
Trying to fit
Job and God into
Their own little boxes.

I learned early that both God
And Job were beyond labels,
But the scribes couldn’t
Write that in so many words.

William Blake captured it
Better in picture–
Me bent silent at Job’s feet,
Offering what comfort I could.

Showing in my posture
How much it hurt me,
Too, to lose all,
Especially those children.

I’d carried them in my womb,
Wiped their runny noses,
Shared in their triumphs
And sorrows.

Now I was without them,
Utterly thrust down–
No longer a respected matron
And wife,
But the sorely bereaved
Helpmate of a poor
Hulk of a soul
Covered all over with boils.

Many’s the time I considered
Cursing God, and Job, too,
But I didn’t.

Instead, I cooked gruel
Of the grain we had left;
I washed his feet
With my tears,
And I stayed by him.

While he wrestled
With the pain
And the hard questions,
I struggled, too.

If God’s answer to Job
Came loudly:
“Have you a voice like God,
And can you thunder
With a voice like his?”
The answer I got was so still
And small, it took me a
Long time to hear it.

“No loss is irredeemable,”
God told me, “Be steadfast,
And you will come to understand.”

So I stayed on.
After Job’s repentance,
When he prayed for forgiveness
For his three friends,
You may notice
That Job didn’t have
To pray for me–
I had been praying
With and for him all along.

We had lots of good years
After that.
More children, too.

We rarely took any of them
For granted.
There’s no joy
Sweeter than joy after sorrow.

And I read between the lines
(Women can be good at that)
That the scribes paid me
A compliment the only way they
Knew how–by naming my
Descendants.

As they ended their book,
It’s our latest daughters
Whose names they wrote down:
Jemimah, Kesiah, and Kerenhappuch.

Of course, I love our sons, too,
And I’ve loved Job forever.

And I think it’s a testimony
To feminine strength
That it’s our daughters
Whose names are mentioned–
Who share in Job’s inheritance.