for ntate Madiba, with respect
When his voice hit the audience,
breaking to pieces the only peace we knew
and were sharing among barbed houses on a hill,
it sent birds off to where startled shards go,
his voice the thing we’d sought
to shake our poetry, make sense of the world
the way a bullet never will.
A shipment of negroes
leaves the shore and is forever gone
to render music unto the world,
win an Olympic with a half a nutrition.
In a dire dance of the last dama, they move
like sirige masks among cotton fields.
Still, his voice beckons. A tap root
fills my mouth completely, floor to roof.
The first time I heard him I thought it was a mistake–
this ideal he was preparing to die for,
but it was in his voice, carried to my door
by the choice of an ordeal, joined by others
from far inland into the Maloti mountains,
where between seasons of cold and hot,
snow and sun shuffle the light.
In the chill of night when the wind is still,
the island whispers thoughts of ghosts,
in nomine Patris et Fillii et Spiritus Sancti,
in a voice like the one I took at Peka High School
for the year-end show when, dressed for war,
and having rubbed the struggle into my hair,
my father watching from the front row,
we marched on-stage, and I began with
the words our people had stated in Kliptown:
South Africa belongs to all who live in it.
© Rethabile Masilo
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