Friday, May 15, 2020

Wild Fridays #19: I Wish I'd Written This

Show Me An Old Rebel 
Do not show me a young rebel,
whose eyes are bright
and whose tail is bushy.
Young rebels are fine and good,
but they are merely doing
what the young are meant to do.
Show me an old rebel.
One who keeps punching
when his hands are arthritic,
when her hair is white,
when his friends are all dead,
when her knees are shot,
when it hurts him to pee,
when her shoulders are so bad
that it would be much easier to punch down
than to punch up.
Show me an old rebel
who keeps standing up after being knocked down
over and over again,
year after year,
decade after decade,
who after the thousandth blow
merely spits out a tooth
and says "Son, you have no idea what you're dealing with,
do you?"
Are you a young rebel?
Are you Sticking it to The Man?
Are you upsetting the gray brainiacs
and knocking over their word castles?
That is fine.
Youth will youth.
But show me a young rebel
who became an old rebel,
who stuck with it through the setbacks
and the beatings and betrayals,
and the beatings and betrayals,
who watched the hippies become yuppies
and the protesters become pundits
and still kept a fire lit
amid the monsoons of infiltration
and the hurricanes of disappointment.
Who will close their tired eyes for a final time
without ever once having cast them to the ground
or peered up in imploring subordination.
That, my friends,
that is a true spirit.
If you are still a fiery rebel
even as everything is ripped away from you,
I will be humbled and awed by you,
because I will know that you will carry that with you to the grave.
And I will know that whatever you find on the other side
will be met
with that same defiant glare.
And I will sing your song when you are gone.
– Caitlin Johnstone 

Yes, I’m somewhat enamoured of Caitllin Johnstone just now. This poem turned up in my inbox this morning, and I immediately gave a mental cheer for the sentiments expressed. In fact I’d love to think I am one of the old rebels she depicts!

When I visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1998, my husband Andrew – who had been there before, and was keen to show it to me – obviously found Lincoln's statue and the Gettysburg Address deeply inspiring. It’s not that I didn’t, but I was surprised and even more moved by videos of the great freedom marches of the late 20th Century, in support of racial equality and women’s rights – so moved that uncontrollable tears poured down my face as I gazed.  As a young woman in Australia, I took part in our version of such marches, and in some of the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and later peace marches, too.

Further, I’ve always found the Marseillaise the most stirring of all national anthems – even though a translation of the words, when I looked for one, revealed them to be very bloodthirsty, which gave me pause. I fire up in much the same way to some of the songs from Les Miserables. I want to grab a flag and start defending some barricades! (But do I want to kill or die? Well, no.)

Recently, a psychic who had only just met me channelled the phrase, referring to me, 'a woman who wants freedom'. It hit me in the middle of the chest, as a core truth about me. And yet, when it comes right down to it, I have to admit I’m pretty law-abiding despite some fiery convictions. And when I look back over my life, I see very few restrictions on me. So I’m not sure where this rebel spirit and freedom impulse come from, but this poem thrilled me this morning.

Perhaps that makes sense. After all, poets have always been in the forefront of freedom movements. If we don’t march, we do write. I remember Joan Baez (a great revolutionary in both words and actions) saying, when she herself had become grey-haired, that she had been wrong to try and shame Bob Dylan into coming out and marching with her and others. ‘He was writing the songs we marched to,’ she said, ‘It wasn’t his job to be on the streets as well.’ (Or something like that. I’m quoting from memory.)

I will aver that it's true I watched '
the hippies become yuppies / and the protesters become pundits / and still kept a fire lit', even if I have more stamina these days for signing petitions than marching.

As Caitlin herself told us, in the post I shared last Friday – and as she so exemplifies – our words can be our weapons: our magic wands, ‘mightier than the sword’.

Yes! White hair and arthritis (I have both) notwithstanding: ‘Aux armes, citoyens'!  

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling


(Yes, that's me – posing defiantly in 2016. The graduation which the t-shirt refers to actually happened in 1962, when I was a young rebel.)
 Material shared here is presented for study and review. Poems, photos, and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, usually the authors. However, Caitlin Johnson states at her blog that 'Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge.'


  1. You are definitely one of the old rebels which Caitlin describes, Rosemary! I too am enamored after reading her poem. What sentiments, what message and what marvelous artistry of words!💘

    You possess both fire and spirit and something which I believe inspires me from time to time, you possess the will to keep going and to keep fighting!

    I like the idea of "if we don't march, we do write." We rebel in our own way! Our words paving the way and urging for change to come. What I love most about Caitlin's work is simplicity of language and depth. What she says is so honest and straightforward, and it clicks! The reader nods in agreement over and over (all the while hoping to turn out or to be as she mentions)

    I was pleasantly surprised and much awed after reading that you took part in marches too and would love to hear more about it!

    Thank you for sharing such a heartening and special Wild Friday with us, Rosemary. I love that picture of you!💘

    1. Thank you, Sanaa. Your response, both enthusiastic and thoughtful, indicates that you have your fair share of the same spirit. I'm glad there are still young rebels too, and I'm sure you are one whose fire will never die. Write on, my friend, write on!

  2. Right On, Sistah! I feel like I did my part, and hope I'm still doing my part even though the sign-toting streetmarches are now (far) behind me. Free verse and all the petitions I can sign is about all I have to offer these days. Thanks for leading me to this fine work!

    1. Aha, so you're another! To do whatever we can, as well as we can, for as long as we can – that is to give one's utmost. And of course, it is good to remember that we don't do it alone. Those who once marched beside us are now the ones who are swelling the signatures on the same petitions we're signing, sending letters to editors, posting wake-up calls on facebook, and yes, speaking up in poems and sharing them as widely as possible.

  3. When society does it's best to negate every aspect of your existence, living is an act of rebellion.

    1. Wow, and with this comment you take the conversation even deeper.

      I think also that finding even a small grain of happiness can be rebellion too in such circumstances – stopping to smell a rose or admire a sunset, loving each other…

  4. Proud to say I am a young rebel turned old .. white hair, arthritis. All of it. Risk taker, fighter for the disabled .. the disenfranchised .. I will not be silenced. Thank you for the poem and for YOU.

  5. Rosemary, I enjoyed reading this from Caitlin Johnson so very much and can identify with most every line. A perfect find from your Inbox.
    "You can take the kid off the farm but you can't take the farm from his/her heart."
    That or something like it, for sure substituting the old timey "boy" and "his" as it works for girls as well. Loretta Lynne? I'm recalling her "Country girl" song.
    Same goes for the rebel, you can quash but you won't kill the spirit. I remember several police stops as a youth for which I did nothing wrong and am still very glad they never caught me when I had done "wrong".
    With my white hair and once in a while using a cane my 'rebel spirit' is still there. Here my first photo is early me with my 'rebel' Jimmy Dean black Mercury.
    I hope you don't mind those links being here, they too are 'me'. Some things, even riots I'll tell and others will remain in my mind and perhaps a few others'. Like, "a few of us every year would throw bricks through a now deceased mean and discriminating judge's garage windows" but I never tossed those times. I suppose he got our message. There nobody got caught. One later came home from Florida once with bullet holes in his car.
    We weren't born or taught to be rebels but our time demanded it. Please don't misgive me for my youth but I understand them still now.

    1. Wow, Jim! Such unexpected civil disobedience, with even a touch of the illegal at times. And here you are now, so wise and loving, and so uncompromisingly truthful – of course, just the qualities which ensured you would take action then. I'm glad you survived your wild youth, and I'm glad too that you lived it. Every one of the rebels of that era was much needed.

      It's fine to post the links here, but when I tried the second it didn't work, and even though I then went to your blog and looked through lots of images, I still couldn't find that post. Darn! I so wanted to see early you with the black Merc. Send it to me by email, please. Details in Contact Us at the top of the page. Then I'll find an excuse to share it with the rest of the community.

  6. Made me cry, girl.

    Especially this:

    “If you are still a fiery rebel
    even as everything is ripped away from you,
    I will be humbled and awed by you,
    because I will know that you will carry that with you to the grave.”

    I hope I become one of these. I feel challenged to try, at least.

    I too am so completely blown away by her writing.

    1. Her writing and also her thinking – and the fact that she DOES think ... and think for herself.

      If you are so inspired, and have that hope, I'm certain you will meet that challenge! And not as a knee-jerk reaction, like some of the young rebels of any era, but because we MUST always speak out against injustice and for the oppressed.

  7. Thanks for the share. I identified! I've long been retired, but at a lunch meeting with 4 of my employees from the "good old days" they laughingly told me my nickname in those days was "old iron pants"! Now the hair is white and the iron pants are a bit rusty, but I'm still feisty!

    1. LOL, I love it! It's interesting – you and others here who have confessed to being rebellious spirits are also among those who speak up in our writings for the values of love and compassion. Which just goes to highlight what an idealistic lot we all are at heart. And long may it be so! We are sisters and brothers, I perceive.

  8. I posted a comment yesterday, which looked like it was the first and was much longer than this one, but it's not got through. It could be in spam. Love the poem, the post and the photo. And the t-shirt is so cool! I hope we all keep on keeping on, notwithstanding arthritic hands and aching shoulders!

    1. Nothing in spam, Kim. A few people at various blogs have reported disappearing comments lately Рno idea why. Thanks for repeating it in pr̩cis!

  9. Thank you for sharing Caitlin Johnstone's poem, and I enjoyed it very much.
    I think there is a little rebel in every one of us waiting to break out. Some burst out early, some never do. When i was younger, i was fairly fed-up with the government, how they rounded up political opponents, and the enlistment for military service (so much later i realised the military service part was quite right). I learned it was difficult to fight a political Juggernaut on your own, and i do whatever little acts of defiance to annoy it.
    I guess i have grown so much more mellow over the years, and all i do now is sign some online petitions and to write, about what gets my goat. :)
    btw, great message on the T-shirt!

    1. Yes, how could I resist that T-shirt? The old are so often underestimated, I think – but not by Caitlin Johnstone.

      Glad to know you too have had a rebellious streak. So many people have chimed in with their fellow-feeling, I'm thinking it must be an essential part of being a poet.

  10. This is badass. There's not really any other word for it. It inspires me, especially:
    "who after the thousandth blow
    merely spits out a tooth
    and says "Son, you have no idea what you're dealing with,
    do you?""

  11. Love the your t-shirt. I am glad I am old and bold. I may not be a well of wisdom, but I have a few tablespoons someone might need.

    1. Oh, I think you have plenty! (I read your poetry.)

  12. Rosemary, your smile in the picture belies the rebellious spirit you expound but reading your shirt reminds me that a cat's claws are always retracted until needed.

    1. That’s a clever observation! You’re right; the cause needs to be a good one.

  13. I like the defiant pose. I'm feeling quite defiant these days. I have ever since a certain orange menace began looming over my country, truth be told.

    1. Well, you certainly have the right blogger name for these sentiments. Long may you be ornery! (And far from ordinary.)

  14. Lovely poem...too bad "racist platforms excluded" (what is she talking about?) makes her sound like a partisan bigot. How does she define the difference between "racist" and "not one of my party, even if a member of an ethnic minority who thinks my party's agenda might not be the best for person's 'race' group"?


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