27 Years

NelsonMandela5Nelson Mandela, leader of the movement to end South African apartheid, is released from prison after 27 years on February 11, 1990.

When I was 27, I was pregnant with my son,
And in the third trimester, I went to England,
Experiencing Stratford on Avon, where he heard
His first Shakespeare play—Much Ado About Nothing—
And toured Roman baths and experienced the result
Of my eating scones with clotted cream, where knights
Of the round table looked down on us from the lofty
Wall of Winchester Cathedral. At 27, my young adult
Life was over and my real adult life was beginning.

He spent 27 years at Robben Island. He was allowed
One visitor a year for 30 minutes. He was allowed
To send a letter twice a year. He could receive a letter,
But then he could not send another for six months.
He had no bed. He worked every day in a quarry
Busting rocks. He slept on a concrete floor
For 27 years. He said, “Any man or institution
Who tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.”

Robben Island is named for the seals that once
Were the only large animals inhabiting the island.
Seals live an average of 15-40 years, and I am
no mathematician but can see that 27 years
is the average. They give birth on land. Adapting
To water and land both, they shed their skin once
A year. He must have done that, allowed himself
A new skin every year, like that visitor. He must
Have measured time differently than normal humans.
Humans throughout the years have been successful
Campaigning to save the seals. He saved himself.

–Shaun Perkins


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