Winnie Meets Nelson

“Njabulo Ndebele, the influential South African critic in exile, called for intimacy and introspection to be restored to a literature dominated, in his view, by the spectacular and exterior, by heroic contests between the powerless and the powerful.” []

This poem is about as close to a love song as I think I’ll ever get. It’s a re-imagination of the first time Winnie Madikizela Mandela may have met Nelson Mandela and the beginning of their relationship, inspired by Njabulo Ndebele’s call for the ordinary to be reintroduced to African fiction and his book “The Cry of Winnie Mandela”.

That day,

You were eloquence, a bold kind of elegance,

The kind that walks the fine line between Voltaire and Machiavelli,

I saw right through you.

Propelled by premature experience but poked through with leftover childhood innocence, you were

An intoxicating mixture of dark and light,

A presence, a force field,

A confusing overlap between fallen angel and boy next door, you were

Stilted confidence,

Velvet cadence in the baritone of your speech,

It felt as if it was uttered directly against the whorl of my ear,

The vibrations resonating in the strings of my spine,

Until I was dizzy,

Drunk… on the chestnut tones of your voice.

That day,

You stood with your hands in your jacket pockets,

Your silhouette framed by the haze of the fluorescent lights,

I was staring at you and for just one second you caught me,

Held me by the irises, undoing me with your soul-deep brown eyes,

And that’s when I claimed you with my mind.

I packaged you.

76 inches of my own personal brand of ecstasy,

The arch of your collarbone branded into my memory,

But then you blinked and you broke the spell, and I

Lost myself as you began to speak in the peaks and valleys of your story,

As you soliloquized, the twists and turns of your words made spirals of my heartbeat,

Your hands shaped the reaction of the crowd, and I

Couldn’t stop watching them, they were leading me,

My imagination following as if tied to an invisible string, you

Pulled me closer and closer until the sweet scent of your neck held me hostage and we

Stood there swaying, heart against lurching heart as you drew out feelings I’ve never known with your fingertips,

I tried to pull myself free from this fantasy as you continued to speak but it had me,

And so I begged you to touch me,

Again, and again while my tongue traced the sweat off your upper lip, your left earlobe, your shoulder…

My hands started shaking as the room erupted in applause for you,

And I clapped too,

But for an entirely different reason…

You stole my consciousness that day.

And I never really had the opportunity to get it back.

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