"Black as I am" by Obediah Michael Smith

 

[Zindsi Mandela, 

23 December 1960 

to 13 July 2020]

 

how like a plant she was 

how just planted she was 

when, in 1978, her book of poems, 

Black as I am, was published 

 

with photographs by Peter Magubane, 

Foreword to it by Andrew Young 

 

used to carry her book of poems, 8.5 x 11 Inches, 

about with me everywhere I went 

used to teach it, used to share it with my classes 

 

recall having it while I taught 

at Inagua All-Age School for two terms, in 1986 

 

when exactly did I buy it/from where did I buy it 

 

might I have purchased it from the bookstore 

at Fisk University that I attended for a year 

 

I loved those poems, I loved the author of them, 

I loved the photographs that accompanied her poems 

 

how I identified with the voice of that young, 

female, South African, freedom fighter 

 

somehow, all those years, I kept her as young 

as she was when she penned the poems in her book  

 

decades passed without a word about her or out of her 

I myself a poet, unable to be quiet, unable to shut up 

 

in the interim, she had grown up, mother with children, 

her dad, after 27 years, released from prison 

 

she and her sister whom she followed, 

ambassadors, representing South Africa… 

 

heard last night, on Democracy Now, that Zindzi, 

Nelson Mandela’s youngest child, has passed away, at 59 


 

what a blow to hear that, took my breath… 

younger than I by 7 years and dead already

 

shocked and surprised but, my God, 

between Black as I am and now, 

what a massive tree she had grown into 

 

though inside me I’d kept her 18 

that voice, that child, that innocent 

 

switched immediately from news I was watching, 

located on YouTube, an interview, from 2018, 

at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 

 

with Allan Little, where she was launching, 

Grandad Mandela, a book about her father, for children 

 

what a great spokeswoman she had evolved into 

what titanic strength, what awesome confidence 

 

oh, but how could she have escaped with input 

from her parents, Nelson and Winnie Mandela 

 

oh, but so soon she’s gone, too soon she’s gone 

 

forces that fostered her, that shaped her, 

have as well undone her 

 

in what fire was she forged 

was it that same intense heat 

 

of being out there on the front line 

that has undone her also 

 

how unhappy I am to see her go/that she is gone 

 

I must locate my copy of Black as I am 

I must read it again - what an inspiration it was 

 

unable to locate my first copy, 

I located and purchased a replacement 

from Amazon.com ten years ago 

 

oh, but there is no second copy of her 

available anywhere on earth, anywhere in this world

 

Obediah Michael Smith was born on New Providence, in the Bahamas, in 1954. He has published 21 books of poetry and a book of Six-word stories. At University of Miami and University of the West Indies, Cavehill, Barbados, he participated in writers workshops facilitated by Lorna Goodison, Earl Lovelace, Grace Nichols, Merle Collins, and Mervyn Morris. He attended Memphis State University, 1973 to 1976 and majored in Speech & Drama and Biology. He has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Dramatics and Speech, from Fisk University. He has lived and has studied French, in Paris, France. At Universidad de Costa Rica, in 2011, he studied Spanish. Obediah was the Poetry Workshop facilitator for the Bahamas Writers Summers Institute, in 2009 and again in 2011, at the College of The Bahamas. His poems in English are included in literary journals and anthologies throughout the Caribbean, in the USA, in England and in Kenya, and his poems, translated into Spanish, are included in anthologies in Colombia, in Mexico, in Peru, in Venezuela and in Spain. In 2011 and 2012, for five months, he lived in Mexico City. He attended Kistrech Poetry Festival in Kisii, Kenya, in 2014 and in 2015. He spent from 2014 to 2018 in 11 countries in Africa.  In 2018, he attended Romanian international poetry festival, “Curtea de Argeş Poetry Nights”. His poems

are now included in that festival’s anthology, translated into Romanian.