On Mother’s Day — I’ll Fly Away

by marthastephens

                                      Or so I said, at least


       ON THIS MOTHER’S DAY, we knew, didn’t we, that a lot of mothers are hungry, they’re sick, they’re homeless and on the streets.  They have debts and can’t pay them.  The rent is due, and they don’t have it.  More and more they do drugs.  They’re arrested and can’t post bond. Increasingly, they’re being locked up long-term, just like the men, in that famous program of ours called Mass Incarceration.

         Mother’s Day?  — what does it mean to such mothers, my friends? 

Here I sit just trying to write sensibly about these mothers — and my own privileged position.   Like many others, I want to resist the evil empire we live in, with its terrible wars and the poverty it inflicts on its own citizens.   I’m not sure I can operate, though, under the brutal dictatorship we’ve put in place.  Sometimes I just want to “leave out,” as we used to say in the south, of  the whole resistance — just fly away.

                 Remember that great old gospel song, my friends, “I’ll Fly Away?”  It was based on an earlier tune called “The Prisoners’ Song,” and I feel this country has become a kind of prison today for many citizens.  Here’s a few lines of  these overlocking tunes:

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away.
Like a bird from my prison walls
I’ll fly away.

Oh how glad, how happy when we meet
That I’ll fly away.
No more of those shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away.

When I try, Hallelujah by and by,
I’ll fly away.                                                    

         Yet why should I, Martha Stephens, trouble myself about the Fourth Reich?

         After all, I have a pension (so far).  I can afford to keep up my garden (so far).  I enjoyed a fresh salad of my collards and arugula today.  I’m not cold, I have heat — so far; and when I’m tired at night, I can sit down rather comfortably on my living room sofa with George my yellow cat by my side, set my little laptop on my lap, and watch music videos on YouTube — so far, that is, while we still have an internet.  Last night I watched, along with some strains of Bach and Vivaldi, some interesting versions of “I’ll Fly Away,” plus songs by a fabulous singer named Eartha Kitt.

(Indeed, please keep reading, my friends, for I want to tell you down below about Eartha Kitt and another woman artist that I love.  Yes, I love these two moms, and just knowing about their lives of the past keeps up my spirits.) 

Ellen and best friend

But anyway, is life so bad?  Last month my daughters in my town of Cincinnati threw me a rousing 80th birthday party! We sang old solidarity songs, to my sister’s guitar, and heard each other’s raps about the struggles of the day.  Then last night, I went to a concert of my granddaughter’s high school percussion group, and it featured an amazing number — my grand-daughter playing a duet with her teacher on two marimbas!

UU Women

I’ve also spent a weekend on a beautiful campus of Episcopalian nuns, the Transfigurations of Glendale, Ohio.  This was the Women’s Retreat of First Unitarian Church, organized rather brilliantly by two of our members.

          Maybe I just won’t worry about the Fourth Reich.  Maybe the worst won’t happen, and in fact, even as I write, a sharp challenge to this presidency is evolving.  Maybe the new “Justice” Department won’t be on hand to round up us resisters and hang us!

              How poor, though, how hungry, will we be — if our new bosses are not thrown out?

         We were a poor country before November 8, and our two traditional parties did very little to help.  (Which is why we got DerTrumpf, it seems to me.)  Almost half of the children in Cincinnati are from families below the poverty line.  (See the latest U. S. Census if you think I’m exaggerating.)  Seventy percent of our high schoolers are on free lunch.  So what would happen to the food insecure if the plans we hear about come to pass: food stamps going down, and school lunches taken away from those who can’t pay?  Is that where we are in this great rich country of ours?  

               Let’s take a long look at this photo, my friends.

The Great Irish Famine.  Is this us in a few years?           


       And Here’s Another Question We Must Ask:  Will Workers in the Fourth Reich Be Allowed to Organize?

         Will our last unions be busted and people grow poorer and poorer?  Look here at the Weavers of Germany in this famous art by Kathe Kollwitz.   They’re tramping homeward after being fired — just for asking for a living wage.

The Weavers.  Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1922)


                               Thinking Anti-War 


I always think anti-war on Mother’s Day, because Mother’s Day was first created by women who were against war.  Julia Ward Howe asked mothers of her time to meet together to work for an end to wars and for “the peaceful settlement of  international questions.”  A little later a woman who joined in, Anna Jarvis, created the May date for Mother’s Day, and here we are.  Both women had lived through the Civil War!

Today, women are still leading the way, wouldn’t you say?  Here’s a photo of the Raging Grannies.  They know how to spread the word against those terrible wars of ours . . . that bring death to so many innocent people, and send refugees streaming over Europe and the Middle East.  I sang with this group once myself and got myself a bonnet to wear.

As of a few days ago, my friends, the Iraq Body Count had registered 194,800 civilian deaths since our invasion of that country in 2003.

                                    The Two Women I Love?

         Well, one of them is the great lithographer Kathe Kollwitz (whose work you’ve seen on this blog before).  (See “The Weavers” above.)  Kollwitz was a deep-died socialist and pacifist.  Living in Berlin during WWll, she was removed from her teaching post because of her views and her works thrown out of museums.  She and her husband were almost sent to a concentration camp, but her fame as an artist saved them.  Kollwitz died a few weeks before the end of the war.

The Sick Child

She had depicted, over and over again, the working people of her time, the very poor, the sick, those struck tragically by war.  She had lost a son in WWl and a grandson in WWll.  You can see her portrait and read a fine article about her on Wikipedia.


Eartha Kitt was also a fine artist, in my view, and known for her stand against war.  She was present at a luncheon in the White House with LadyBird Johnson (and said it was boring).  When LadyBird  asked her women guests why “the youth” were acting up in the streets and smoking marijuana, Kitt told her the truth: they were protesting because they were angry that people like themselves were dying and being maimed in Vietnam.

This made LadyBird cry, it was said, got Kitt in bad with LBJ and the CIA, and she was eventually blackballed in the U. S.  She said, “Oh well — so what?” and made a new life for herself in Europe, where she was a huge hit for over a decade.

As a child Kitt had picked cotton in South Carolina.  She had no family that cared about her and a white father whose name she never knew.  Then a miracle happened.  She was put on a train to NYC, by some mystery person of the town, and in NY was enrolled in school.  Certain teachers saw her unusual talents and got her into Performing Arts (good for them!), and in short, Eartha Kitt was to become a fabulous entertainer.

She began as a dancer in an all-black dance troop, but her singing gigs were what really caught on! Get on YouTube and watch her in a song called “Monotonous,” or in “Santa Baby” or “C’est si bon.”  She had a tremendous voice, and an amazing, complex, and sometimes dance-like style.

Kitt died in 2008 at 81, cared for by her only child, a daughter she had said was her only “family” — but for her proto-family of fans and supporters.


If anyone’s still reading –I shouldn’t do this, but I’ll let two male artists into this post with their poems.  


“A planet doesn’t explode of itself,” said drily
The Martian astronomer, gazing off into the air —
“That they were able to do it is proof that highly
Intelligent beings must have been living there.”
John Hall Wheelock


 This one is by the great poet W. H. Auden.  It’s a brilliant scene depicting the wars of yesteryear, and yet —  is it that far removed from spaces of the earth today?


O What Is That Sound

O what is that sound which so thrills the ear
Down inthe valley drumming, drumming?
Only the scarlet soldiers, dear,
The soldiers coming.

O what is that light I see flashing so clear
Over the distance brightly, brightly ?
Only the sun on their weapons, dear,
As they step lightly.

O what are they doing with all that gear
What are they doing this morning, this morning?
Only the usual manoeuvres, dear,
Or perhaps a warning.

O why have they left the road down there
Why are they suddenly wheeling, wheeling?
Perhaps a change in the orders, dear,
Why are you kneeling ?

O haven’t they stopped for the doctor’s care
Haven’t they reined their horses, their horses ?
Why, they are none of them wounded, dear,
None of these forces.

O is it the parson they want with white hair;
Is it the parson, is it, is it ?
No, they are passing his gateway, dear,
Without a visit.

O it must be the farmer who lives so near
It must be the farmer so cunning, so cunning?
They have passed the farm already, dear,
And now they are running.

O where are you going? stay with me here!
Were the vows you swore me deceiving, deceiving?
No, I promised to love you, dear,
But I must be leaving.

O it’s broken the lock and splintered the door,
O it’s the gate where they’re turning, turning
Their feet are heavy on the floor
And their eyes are burning.

No more war, my friends — no more!  

Thanks for reading.