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  • A Poet's Guide to Mandeland

A Poet's Guide to Mandeland


Your bounty threatens me, Mandela, that taut Drum skin of your heart on which our millions Dance... When he lay ill, battling mortality, his life-long friend and comrade, pleaded with his countrymen and women, and indeed, the world: ‘it is time to let him go’. ​How wrong he was! The world is in no hurry to let Mandela go. And so we hoist him suspended across that invisible realm where avatars reside. Some have even named him a Messiah come through the prison gates—no, the world does not need a Messiah and, in any case, the very notion was anathema to him. Let it suffice to think of him as something of a miracle, add him to a modest pantheon of rare species, makers of new histories, bearers of new visions. Mandela was a pointer to possibilities of a transformed humanity, one of a sparse breed who offer a glimpse of the depthless fount of universal compassion. ​That is more than sufficient to celebrate, more than sufficient to keep alive, refreshing his unique, boundless presence in unknown places—across race, faith, and politics. It is that Nature preserve of his passage, stretching now into the ancestral realm, that I have designated—Mandeland—a vast, accommodating parkland for all seasons. There, all the songs and dances of the world congregate. The poems in this recording--a personal choice—attempt to explore the contours of that estateóperhaps I have taken refuge in the safety of ‘landscape’ as opposed to the being himself, to avoid attracting the umbrage of a friend and young confidant of Madiba, whose letter complained:​ In the tedious and unimaginative narrative of an “icon” (urgh) the human ​being has been lost. If this effort is still guilty of the charge, I know we can count of Mandelaís own magnanimity and understanding. The compilation is from a reading that I did, not long after Mandela took his final leave. Hundreds have traced the geography of that giant presence in their own lyrical modes, so this is just another tribute, a private message, shared by a few guests. I was not present at his funeral, so it serves as a farewell to a cherished elder, and pointer. The last word should not belong to my instinctive lament that was provoked by news of his departure, though of course those (adapted) words remain sadly true, and reproachful: “The soul of Africa has departed, and there is nothing left miraculous in the whole, ​wide, world.” -WS

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