Eichman Runs the Pentagon, or Modern Military Madmen

“We cannot choose the arms race and the cold war
and Peace.”

If 60 million Americans
are killed in a day
that is acceptable

but if 80 million Americans
are killed in a day
that may be less acceptable.

Beware the modern Eichmans
in many of us.

Every moment in which we prepare
for nuclear warfare
we choose death
and there comes a time
when preparation demands action.

Soon we will reach
the last time
to make the choice
between destruction and life.

There are people
who really love death.

Unamuno cried out, during the Spanish Civil War,
“Long live death.”
I cannot tolerate
this senseless
and necrophilous shout.

Freedom
is only a word.

Freeing one’s self
is a constant action
our freedom changes
with every action
as choices change
when the chess game begins
until one is forced to resign.

Thinking
is a function
of character.

Thinking requires
courage
adventurousness,
a healthy suspicion,
even cynicism

The art of living
is a difficult thing;
our general mood
is not geared to reality.

To say Yes to Peace
is to say No
to the Arms Race.

— Dennis Brutus
November 18, 1980

South African poet and journalist Dennis Brutus was banned from all social activity after protesting the apartheid government. He was arrested in 1963 for breaking that ban (he was not allowed to meet with more than two people at a time) and sentenced to 18 months in jail. He escaped while out on bail, but was re-arrested and shot in the back during a subsequent escape attempt. He was then sentenced to 16 months of hard labor on Robben Island. Brutus wrote this poem about a white crowd that attacked black protesters at the Johannesburg City Hall after the passage of the General Law Amendment Act (Sabotage Bill) in May 1962.

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I Saw Your Mother

I saw your mother
with two guards
through a glass plate
for one quarter hour
on the day that you died.

‘Extra visit, special favour’
I was told, and warned
‘The visit will be stopped
if politics is discussed.
Verstaan – understand!?’
on the day that you died

I couldn’t place
my arm around her,
around your mother
when she sobbed.

Fifteen minutes up
I was led
back to the workshop.
Your death, my wife,
one crime they managed
not to perpetrate.
on the day that you died

— Jeremy Cronin

Jeremy Cronin was raised in a white, middle-class family in Cape Town, South Africa. A member of the banned South African Communist Party, he was arrested in 1976 and charged with conspiring with the African Nationalist Congress to circulate anti-apartheid propaganda. He plead guilty and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison under the Terrorism Act. Six months into his sentence, his wife, Anne-Marie, died of a brain tumor. Three of his seven years were spent in a maximum security prison on death row. Cronin began writing poetry while awaiting trial and continued writing secretly in throughout his incarceration. Many of his poems were smuggled out, and when he was released in May 1983, he gathered and revised them into the collection Inside.

[Research note: Robin Malan, Ed. A Collection of Poems for the Young People of Southern Africa, 5th Ed. (Cape Town and Johannesburg: David Philip, 2004): 163; Inside; Andrew van der Vlies, “An Interview with Jeremy Cronin,” Contemporary Literature Vol. 49, no. 4 (Winter 2008): 514-540]

Motho ke Motho ka Batho Babang

(A Person is a Person Because of Other People)

By holding my mirror out of the window I see
Clear to the end of the passage.
There’s a person down there.
A prisoner polishing a doorhandle.
In the mirror I see him see
My face in the mirror,
I see the fingertips of his free hand
Bunch together, as if to make
An object the size of a badge
Which travels up to his forehead
The place of an imaginary cap.
                  (This means: A warder.)
Two fingers are extended in a vee
And wiggle like two antennae.
                  (He’s being watched.)
A finger of his free hand makes a watch-hand’s arc
On the wrist of his polishing arm without
Disrupting the slow-slow rhythm of his work.
                  (Later. Maybe, later we can speak.)
Hey! Wat maak jy daar?
                  — a voice from around the corner.
No. Just polishing baas.
He turns his back to me, now watch
His free hand, the talkative one,
Slips quietly behind
                  — Strength brother, it says,
In my mirror,
                  A black fist.

— Jeremy Cronin

insideJeremy Cronin was raised in a white, middle-class family in Cape Town, South Africa. A member of the banned South African Communist Party, he was arrested in 1976 and charged with conspiring with the African Nationalist Congress to circulate anti-apartheid propaganda. He plead guilty and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison under the Terrorism Act. Six months into his sentence, his wife, Anne-Marie, died of a brain tumor. Three of his seven years were spent in a maximum security prison on death row. Cronin began writing poetry while awaiting trial and continued writing secretly in throughout his incarceration. Many of his poems were smuggled out, and when he was released in May 1983, he gathered and revised them into the collection Inside.

[Research note: Inside (http://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/inside-jeremy-cronin); Andrew van der Vlies, “An Interview with Jeremy Cronin Contemporary Literature Vol. 49, no. 4 (Winter 2008): 514-540.]

Measure for Measure

go measure the distance from cape town to pretoria
and tell me the prescribed area i can work in

count the number of days in a year
and say how many of them i can be contracted around

calculate the size of house you think good for me
and ensure the shape suits tribal tastes

measure the amount of light into the window
known to guarantee my traditional ways

count me enough wages to make certain that i
grovel in the mud for more food

teach me just so much of the world that i
can fit into certain types of labour

show me only those kinds of love
which will make me aware of my place at all times

and when all that is done
let me tell you this
you’ll never know how far i stand from you

— Sipho Sepamla

South African poet Sipho Sepamla was an active member of the anti-Apartheid Black Consciousness Movement. His work, including his The Soweta I Love, a book of poems written in response to the 1976 Soweto Uprising, was banned the government.

[Research note: this poems comes from The Soweta I Love (Africa Book Centre, 1977), p. 14]

For Don M — Banned

it is a dry white season
dark leaves don’t last, their brief lives dry out
and with a broken heart they dive down gently headed for the earth,
not even bleeding.
it is a dry white season brother,
only the trees know the pain as they stand still erect
dry like steel, their branches dry like wire
indeed it is a dry white season
but seasons come to pass.

— Mongane Wally Serote

South African Mongane Wally Serote was arrested in June 1969 by the apartheid government under the Terrorism Act. He spent nine months in solitary confinement before being released without charge. Serote wrote this poem for Don Mattera, a poet who was banned — prohibited from appearing and or speaking at public functions —by the government between 1973 and 1982.

The Mob

These are the faceless horrors
that people my nightmares
from whom I turn to wakefulness
for comforting

yet here I find confronting me
the fear-blanked facelessness
and saurian-lidded stares
of my irrational terrors
from whom in dreams I run.

O my people

O my people
what have you done
and where shall I find comforting
to smooth awake the mask of fear
restore your face, your faith, feeling, tears.

— Dennis Brutus

South African poet and journalist Dennis Brutus was banned from all social activity for protesting the apartheid government. He was arrested in 1963 for breaking that ban, which prohibited him from meeting with more than two people at once. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail, but he escaped while out on bail. He was re-arrested and shot in the back during a subsequent escape attempt. He was then sentenced to 16 months of hard labor on Robben Island. Brutus wrote this poem about a white crowd that attacked black protestors at the Johannesburg City Hall after the passage of the General Law Amendment Act (Sabotage Bill) in May 1962.

Think of Me Sometime

think of me, sometime
as you rise at dawn
the day, like your heart,
filled with dreams and
hopes that will come true
while I am filled with doubt
think of me, sometime
as you walk unshackled
and your movement takes you
into shaded walks and pleasant places
horizon stretched beyond the eye
while I am confined
think of me, sometime
as you fill your cup with wine
and sing your song
finding merriment in your meaning
with friendship all around
while my cup is dry
think of me, sometime
as you lay enfold
in your lover’s arms
enchanted by the music
of hearts beating in time
while I make love to myself
think of me, sometime
as you look at your son
at play with his sister
around their mother’s feet
a scene of family complete
while I have fathered none
think of me, sometime
as you enjoy life
and watch flowers bloom
to grow and give delight
life as light as air
while life for me has died

— James Matthews

Most of James Matthews’ poetry was banned by the government of South Africa during the era of apartheid. He was denied a passport for 13 years and imprisoned from September to December 1976. Listen to Matthews recite this poem at the Poetry Archive.