Youth in upheaval—Nixon,
Vietnam, the assassinations,
our country stripped of its veneer
of stability and, worse, its honor.
In the face of it, our flawed,
fast-burning prophets sending
their single message: Don’t die!
And what dangerous truthtelling—
Havens inventing his “Freedom”
like an escaped slave on the run,
the Who spitting out “We’re not gonna
take it,” saying it, as it
turned out, for us all, and
most shockingly Hendrix’s epic
take-down of our blood-soaked flag.
It was all in place for that convergence
that could have turned demonic
but came out angelic instead.
That psychedelic apostle clown
Wavy Gravy in his white coveralls
and impossible hat dared to call
it from the stage, “Heaven,” and he
wasn’t wrong. The darkness had grown
deep enough for the light to burst
through, and for an illuminated moment
we all stood in it together.
It wouldn’t last, we, its imperfect
vessel, couldn’t hold it, maybe no one
could but a few weird saints.
But just for it to have shone
however briefly through a whole
generation was something new,
it was big, a miracle even,
the miracle that dispelled
the hunger and fear and broke
the darkness into loaves and fishes
enough to feed half a million.
Happened before, it could
happen again. That weekend
the eternal slipped the bonds of Eastern
Standard Time, a victory of
peacefulness over violence,
plenty over scarcity,
sharing over selfishness.
Though it couldn’t last,
though we couldn’t keep it,
we weren’t wrong to want it.
Those who still want it aren’t wrong.
—Thomas R. Smith