I salute a word, I stand up and give it my chair,
because this one Zulu word, ubuntu,
holds what English takes seven to say:
"the essential dignity of every human being."
I give my hand to ubuntu --
the simple, everyday South African word
for the English mouthful.
I do not know the black Jerusalems of Africa,
or how to dance its sacred dances,
I cannot play Christ's two commandments on the drums:
"Love God" and "Love thy neighbor as thyself."
I do not believe the spirits of the dead
are closer to God than the living,
nor do I take to my heart
the Christlike word ubuntu
that teaches reconciliation
of murderers, torturers, accomplices,
with victims still living.
It is not blood but ubuntu
that is the manure of freedom.
From "New and Selected Poems: 2006"
(Seven Stories Press: 248 pp., $18.95)