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"Black as I am" by Obediah Michael Smith

Updated: Feb 7, 2021



[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.


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