2016 Inktober Winner for Spoken Word: Nelson Mandela by Helen Kay

In a warm ward, gently you slip away
but what an empty space when you are gone.
The press, in love with easy stories, paves
the way with clichés comfortable, stable,
critical, awaiting the volcano of lament.
You outlived Thatcher and her legacy,
and, safely distanced by a sea of years
from words like communist and terrorist,
we all bow down to your integrity.
The barbed wire of apartheid has been cut.
There are some who will pay respect,
omitting to admit allegiances
to groups that wanted you to swing.
But you have taught us not to cling to grudges.
You shaped our youth, hungover misfits.
In a town square, begging signatures,
posters for AA gigs on boarded houses,
hosting SWAPO speakers on the floor
amongst the Merrydown and Rizzla papers,
debating dropouts, Trots and battered miners.
While the blood of Soweto stained the earth,
we learned about Rivonia, and laws
that thinly masked white fear; you learned
to cradle sanity in concrete walls.
Events outside were somehow dripped to you:
Your mother’s death, the raid on Lillesleaf farm,
and Winnie’s punishments. Your greater
suffering shrank our suffering down,
though still significant and somehow linked.
Exposed to labour, torture, hunger
you led inmates to fight with dignity.
For every clenched fist holds the bigger fight.
The world rejoiced the moment you walked free.
Small step, big step, holding Winnie’s hand,
a simple act amidst complexities
which you well understood, sought to pick through,
to wash the language of resistance clean,
while dreams of family life were swept away.
Now illness is your final prison, but your love
and legacy have been released and grow
upon the fertile soils of hope and peace.
We raise a fist and let Mandela free.

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