Mandela’s Mandala

My grandmother spoke of a great man
Whose skin colour was a secondary concern
To the taste of his ideas, his morals on her lips
Hands on hips in her folded apron, she showed me
The power of strong rhetoric, tropical thinking
My grandfather chopped wood and remained silent
Unwilling to share his politics with those so young
I watched him split logs with one swing of an ancient axe
Shirt off in the pale, English Sunday weather
I watched my grandmother from my perch on the pondokkie
Swinging my legs as she peeled the potatoes
Split her open and the rings would show no colour
But the shape of her beloved country, through each
Cell of her deep-tanned, well cared for, white skin
A difficult woman, she held her beliefs with vicious tenacity
Preferred to attack what she viewed as injustice
With a verbal barrage that would put Sergeant Majors to shame
She laid bright flowers in an eggcup on the windowsill
In the hope of his freedom and a speedy return
To the country of her birth, her much praised Africa
Whose yellow skies and long heat warmed her
Even across the forty years of chilly English countryside
The dust of an old dirt road clung to her feet
Rising with her sense of South African pride
The day they released his book, she bought ten copies in hardback
This lifelong huntress of bargains for once profligate
Spilling coins without waiting for the price to come down
She gave them to her friends, those chilly, trophy wives
Who nodded their thanks through their layers of paint
But whose plastered on smiles did not reach their powdered eyes
Her own copy was placed on the coffee table, strategically
Next to the woven bowl of blackened bananas – fully ripe
The only way my grandfather would eat them
His eyes skimmed the man’s face each time he reached for
A handful of soft, sweet, wizened fruit
She wore him down, political peace by piece
Until her discussions were moved from the kitchen to the parlour
With all the adults involved while the children lay on the rug
Completing the two Christmas jigsaws of Africa and South America
With camels and elephants slotting into place next to the date palm
Once the borders had taken shape and the cape jutted out
Before finding the pieces of cactus with its sombrero and poncho
Under the corner of the cake plate
And then, when I was still a child, Mandela was free
She showed me the pictures, sat at the kitchen counter
While fish fingers fried in the pan and the calico cat
Stalked the sizzling butter with determined paws
She turned to turn my page and a finger was out of the pan
Onto the floor with the cat jumping after it
That was the first time I did not hear her scolding
Scalded paws scurried away with their prize
As she pointed out the man I had been told would save
My grandmother’s beloved South Africa from itself

Advertisements