Invictus (In the memory of Mandela who died today, 6 December 2013)

Posted on: December 6th, 2013 by Paolo Totaro 14 Comments





craggy black face, white coat,

he turns to fetch

comb, scissors

and a worn leather strop.

‘So, what’ll it be today? Short?’


Here, a fading group photo

taped lightly on the mirror.

A single word, INVICTUS,

points to a tall Black man,

with a sculpted middle parting

and the mind flashes back to another image

of seas parting

and of a prophet

in self-restrained motion,

leading his people.


Here at Jack’s Hair Grooming

in downtown Chicago,

other photos. A mane

of frizzy white beard and hair

pushed by a gale of will-power,

atop a worn neck-tie

and plantation coat

-yes, it is Frederick Douglass,

freed slave who fought to free others.

Near him, free born

Rosa Parks

in a much later photo,

the one on the Montgomery bus.


But when Jack says the other name

it etches forever in my mind

because mandàla

is the Universe,

is the oneness

of all of mankind.



We meet again in the dim light

of a winter evening, in Naples Via



he is sharing a street tabernacle

with Black Madonna del Carmine.

In the photo his hair is now white

but the graffito sings out



Yet there is war -not blacks and whites,

but old organized crime

against all people and it kept

in true segregation,

men associated freely

in one Constitution,

shackled by fear,

hostage to a medieval evil

against the ground rule of unity

of each human being.

But there were

and still

there are those, like Roberto Saviano,

who risk it all, maybe in the name

of the unvanquished

symbol of unity, the man

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.



Finally, we met in person,

after the Nobel, for Australian television

and we had prepared for the interview

not as if to meet a saint to venerate

or, God forbid, a god.

We simply reduced to a minor essence,

the one that says no more than we respect,

that won’t  worship but only sees


a man, whose paragon is not Jesus,

but man Mandela:

rare but still one person as you,

you who read these lines,

are one person

from alpha to omega,


as Mandela

an atom of nothing both before

and after,

and yet a spark of a mysterious light,

so blinding as

to make you see

the most secrete gift,

the inner unity of each and other life.

Now you are unafraid. You are INVICTUS.

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