Wednesday Poem

Your Logic Frightens Me Mandela

Your logic frightens me, Mandela,
Your logic frightens me. Those years
Of dreams, of time accelerated in
Visionary hopes, of savoring the task anew,
The call, the tempo primed
To burst in supernovae round a “brave new world”!
Then stillness. Silence. The world closes round
Your sole reality; the rest is… dreams?

Your logic frightens me.
How coldly you disdain legerdemains!
“Open Sesame” and—two decades’ rust on hinges
Peels at touch of a conjurer’s wand?
White magic, ivory-topped black magic wand,
One moment wand, one moment riot club
Electric cattle prod and club or sjambok
Tearing flesh and spilling blood and brain?

This bag of tricks, whose silk streamers
Turn knotted cords to crush dark temples?
A rabbit punch sneaked beneath the rabbit?
Doves metamorphosed in milk-white talons?
Not for you the olive branch that sprouts
Gun muzzles, barbed-wire garlands, tangled thorns
To wreathe the brows of black, unwilling christs.

Your patience grows inhuman, Mandela.
Do you grow food? Do you make friends
Of mice and lizards? Measure the growth of grass
For time’s unhurried pace?
Are you now the crossword puzzle expert?

Chess? Ah, no! Subversion lurks among
Chess pieces. Structured clash of black and white,
Equal ranged and paced? An equal board? No!
Not on Robben Island. Checkers? Bad to worse
That game has no respect for class or king-serf
Ordered universe. So, scrabble?

Monopoly? Now, that…! You know
The game’s modalities, so do they.
Come collection time, the cards read “White Only”
In the Community Chest. Like a gambler’s coin
Both sides heads or tails, the ’Chance’ cards read:
I think, on those who sought to by-pass ‘GO’
On Robben Island.

Your logic frightens me Mandela, your logic
Humbles me. Do you tame geckos?
Do grasshoppers break your silences?
Bats’ radar pips pinpoint your statuesque
Gaze transcending distances at will?

Do moths break wing
Against a light-bulb’s fitful glow
That brings no searing illumination?
Your sight shifts from moth to bulb,
Rests on its pulse-glow fluctuations—
Are kin feelings roused by a broken arc
Of tungsten trapped in vacuum?

Your pulse, I know, has slowed with earth’s
Phlegmatic turns. I know your blood
Sagely warms and cools with seasons,
Responds to the lightest breeze
Yet scorns to race with winds (or hurricanes)
That threaten change on tortoise pads.

Is our world light-years away, Mandela?
Lost in visions of that dare supreme
Against a dire supremacy of race,
What brings you back to earth? The night-guard’s
Inhuman tramp? A sodden eye transgressing through
The Judas hole? Tell me Mandela,
That guard, is he your prisoner?

Your bounty threatens me, Mandela, that taut
Drum-skin of your heart on which our millions
Dance. I fear we latch, fat leeches
On your veins. Our daily imprecisions
Dull keen edges of your will.

Compromises deplete your act’s repletion—
Feeding will-voided stomachs of a continent,
What will be left of you, Mandela?

 by Wole Soyinka
from Poetry, Issue no. 107 (Summer 1988)