One set of thoughts on Nelson Mandela’s Death

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One Set of Thoughts On Nelson Mandela’s Death

When I think of them talking about South Africa, we are almost always at the Hot Shoppes, Friday nights, around a circular wooden table, its brown veneer smeared with sponged shine, swirled by demonstrative maple,

eating from gold speckled trays, my mom finally off the next day, mashed potatoes and thick white plates–

and there is always the word “bloodbath”–which seemed the only possible outcome–mixed in with the phrases “beautiful country;” and “such a shame.”

The shame seemed to arise on several levels–some I could not, as a child, quite trace–but the contours of the word “bloodbath” were easy enough to come up with–gorges slit throats, rivers sliced arteries, valleys marooned–

My mother, at least, was of a mixed mind–pained by the injustice–while her widowed friend who came along with us, had a daughter whose boyfriend was a rich South African, white,  and so, there were these sighs–he really was quite rich–that what was going on was terrible, but not perhaps as bad as red-soaked streets–

As I listened, I would think of the guy who’d just cut my Dad’s roast beef–we lived in the semi-South, and all the workers at the Hot Shoppes were pretty much black–his skin shining so warm in the glare of the heat lamps, the puddling of blood on the carving board and the brilliant droplets oozing from the beef’s crimson core, the starched white hat that implied (without my consciously thinking of it) safety, an acceptance of rules and a life of their imposition–

and I thought of how kindly he smiled, looking over to me as my Dad tried to decide how he wanted his meat done–

and of the carver’s hands, the skin translucent below the lamp, the creases of his palms pink against their tan, the fleshy base so soft around the pine stem of the great grey knife–

I did not even know Mandela’s name back then–nine or ten–but when I did learn it, it came to mean one thing to me–”no bloodbath”–

It was something that seemed impossible–I mean, there were race riots the very next year in my home town, me just eleven–

and I write this now not meaning to diminish the suffering, but only to describe my awe at waters that have washed so blue along jagged coasts, green riverbanks, and of a translucence of flesh/spirit/smile that was completely human, yet able, like the divine, to let there be light.

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Here’s a draftish prose poem written for Kerry O’Connor’s prompt on With Real Toads, to write a personal response to the death of Nelson Mandela.  Like all of us, I’ve got many responses, but this was one set of memories that came up.  I’m also linking belatedly to  Mary’s dVerse Poets Pub prompt about light.

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23 Comments on “One set of thoughts on Nelson Mandela’s Death”

  1. Mary Says:

    Karin, I love it when you write your childhood memories. This one touched me greatly. Mandela’s light will live on.

  2. brian miller Says:

    what a powerful tale…i remember the first time a ‘man of color’ entered the little church that i grew up in…it saddens me to think about it actually…i knew right away though it was wrong…no bloodbath, indeed….and may mandelas light carry on in those that take it up as we face the world yet to come….


  3. Your prose voice and style are powerful and your closing paragraph really struck me, tying in the land as you did. Great response, Karen.

  4. Sherry Marr Says:

    A fantastic poem – loved seeing through your eyes as a child. This is really powerful stuff. LOVE! IT!

  5. claudia Says:

    very interesting to tell this from a child’s perspective, trying to get the puzzle pieces together… i think i never met a dark person as a kid but do regularly now and mandela changed much and made a big difference yet i also realize that in some heads the barriers are still there… ugh..makes me sad


  6. I love how you tell this.. the bloodbath.. a word that would sting to a child’s mind like nothing else.. me, I could actually faint at the mere mention of blood… I recall the discussions at home as well.. and from where it were, I fills me with joy to what it became…A great man have passed away..

  7. Akila Says:

    A wonderful ode! So much he has left for us hopefully not just as memoirs but lessons to be carried into and implemented and hand over to coming generations

  8. Sumana Roy Says:

    a very powerful write up….

  9. hedgewitch Says:

    Very evocative piece, k, of both a time and a place in our life when the outside world was larger than our own comprehension, yet we still were able to discern the patterns of big things, or perhaps their shadows, as they fell on us. And that can only be due to the light behind them. Your use of detail brings your thoughts to life.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks. Always hard to know re detail–I cut a lot that described the perspective but that seemed to drag it all down-i.e. too much. I find this is really too big a topic for me to approach very philosophically–I so admire your piece, which works on that kind of poetic/philosophical level. k.

      • hedgewitch Says:

        I knew the man himself was too far away and too big for me to write about meaningfully, so I just took a corner bite.You give a real perspective here, k–I remember very little about that part of the world being in my mind as a child, so appreciate the pov and the personal snapshot.


  10. This just blew me away, Karin. I am lost for words, really, but would like you to know that I felt this from deep in my heart.

    I think this day has been a marvelous opportunity for people to share stories, reflect on injustices, near and far. I commend you for your honesty, here, and the reminder that South Africa was not the only country to practice racial segregation in the 20th Century. It was nothing short of a miracle that we escaped the blood-bath, believe me, I lived through a decade of just that fear.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thank you, Kerry. You know, when you write and post relatively quickly, it is hard to feel that you’ve really captured what you are trying to–or at least what you realize by the end of writing and posting, you were trying to, so I don’t feel like I really have been quite able to get it. . But I don’t think younger people outside of SA can fully realize the magnitude of what Mandela accomplished and I was trying to describe that.

      Thank you very much for your thoughtful prompt and your always thoughtful prompts and your own wonderful poem. (I mean, specifically, your new one re Mandela but they are all wonderful.)


  11. As I began reading I did not know you had intended it as a prose poem, but that is exactly what it real like to me: a poet’s perspective, and such very beautiful writing.

  12. kkkkaty1 Says:

    I find this exceptionally evocative..the thick plates, the roast beef…the waiter’s skin that glowed in the light, how your mother reacted…your perspective as a girl, the marvelous last paragraph. I was a bit older back then having emotional awakenings and this impacted me deeply…..moving piece, k.

  13. janehewey Says:

    really beautiful, karin. your personal perspective is colorful and evokes emotional response. these are the events that shape so much of who we are and what we believe. I admire your ability to bring memory to the page is such a refined way.

  14. Grace Says:

    I enjoyed the story from your child’s perspective ~ I have never seen a man of color until I was an adult ~ I like how you describe the carver’s color & smile ~ Well written K ~

  15. grapeling Says:

    Karin, this is a wonderful piece, your description of the carver’s hands and his hat, the coastline – all of it. I think it would be splendid if you did a reading of this for us to hear ~


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