18 June 2020

Robert and Maya, a poem by Rethabile Masilo

Having read them far more than any other troubadour
has made me their child, learning their language
whose gist I quickly lapped up with my tongue,
so that now when I hear my people sing I know
someone has been trying to kill us.
But killing doesn't make us dead for good.
And often you might have seen some, on the prairies,
who were determined to tear our cocoa backs with whips,
even as ancestor presences made the cotton fields black,
and the wild thorn-shrub threw its veil across the day,
with us pushing voodoo through the marshes of the South.
We have songs. When harsh is the darkness of the hour
we got vision from the tops of mountains in Vermont.
One by one they erased black people’s dreams,
walked them back against the flow of scholarship
and thrashed them for every step they took going forth,
stamping their bodies to the fusty ground.
But a body is only the package of a complex gift: a soul
made of a multi-faceted will to live and endure.
They may gather in glass houses at the limits of estates
to see to preserving people in bondage, even as
every Sunday they gulp all the water from the holy font,
the bible’s thickness their steppingstone to government;
and they may strike the memory of our name
off the hallmarks of their kingdom—free is the one who lives
and believes, and ripostes with a fist of wisdom,
up until the hooded one at last hurtles across the valley
and stops his horse beside a farm, pulls out a book
of matches, and lights the tip of his rollup, ’til we pour
from the barn and embrace him, bringing with us bales
of laughter as together we dance till the sky cracks, and rain
falls with bewilderment at our upturned, opalescent faces,
as if we all had gold mines diggin’ in our own backyard,
before a rainbow’s semicircle melds our distinct worlds.

Maya Angelou and Robert Frost

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