At the Door of Pollsmoor Prison
Kaleo and Alice, Robben Island 2011
At The Door Of Pollsmoor Prison
for Kaleo, for Madiba
©2014 by Alice Walker
When we arrived at the door of Pollsmoor prison
we were already deeply stirred
and sat a while outside
calming ourselves before going in. Me, breathing deeply,
you holding Madiba’s image in consciousness
so that walking in you might more completely
Once inside they showed us
the tiny cell
and placed me inside it
as they place others they wish to gift
with more than a glance at the prison experience
of the much revered, also at times much reviled,
i stood stretching out my arms, feeling the sides
of the cell move toward me. And feeling my whole self
listening to the eternal essence of you
that is there
and not there. i looked down
at the pallet on the floor
where you lay awake or slept so many nights
dreaming i am sure of Winnie and your girls.
There was a feeling of deep silence
in the place
where you lived for so long
and i was glad you were permitted
at least to keep
The fashion nowadays
seems to be to rape the mind; ravage the spirit.
But there you sat or lay, night after night, and your comrades
were not so far away
in other cells.
What kept you going?
I think it was your love of who you were, and that you knew
who that was!
something your jailers could not know
or even guess. They would not have known
there were rigorously
in your lineage
both women and men
and not only
sanusis and sangomas
who taught you self-respect. They would have been
ignorant of the elders’ faith in you
and how much this meant to your morale.
Those who are seen, recognized, and embraced
by the wisest old people of the tribe
especially by both the women and the men
as you were
cannot really be defeated. They may be lied about,
imprisoned for decades, or even killed,
but that is not the same.
Madiba, respected elder, beloved; in Xhosa.
Sanusi, (ancient) Sangoma, Zulu healer/shaman
Thank you, unknown photographer