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On David Constantine’s Poem

(for Landeg White, David Constantine & Co)

Your poem for Irina Ratushinskaya
On your birthday has reached these
Putrid African prison walls it
Was probably not meant for;
What cheer distant voices must bring
Another poet crackling in the Russian
Winters of icicle cells.
Yet even in this dungeon where
Day after day we fester within
The walls of the tropical summers
Of our Life President
And his hangers-on, even here,
What fresh blood flushes
When an unexpected poem arrives,
What fire, what energy
Inflames these fragile bones!
Indeed we have the verses in common,
The detention camps
The laws against poems
The black or white
Traitor or patriot
But secure in your
Voices of solidarity,
We’ll crush the crocodiles
That crack our brittle bones.
Do not falter then, brother,
Do not waver, dear brethren,
But craft on the verses
Whose ceaseless whisper resonates
Beyond the Whitehalls of our dreams!

Jack Mapanje

Published in the author's latest collection, Beasts of Nalunga (Bloodaxe)

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