The Johannesburg Review of Books presents previously unpublished poetry by Simon van Schalkwyk.
We drive there on a whim in someone’s car.
From the back-seat, through my misted window,
I peer at hedgerows: the rank and file that guard
wide reserves of private, English, meadow.
These flicker, on occasion, through rough breaks
of unclipped brush where great West Country buck
must once have broken through: I see them shake
rustic antlers at onrushing trucks.
They must have had no chance. But there are roads
less Roman, that follow the brooks and rills
forgetfully, in rambling fashion, to roam
thoughtless into narrows, across bridges that spill
over millponds known by local names
and leading to market towns like Hay-on-Wye.
This is where the pony shakes its mane
against ephemeral mayflies and the day,
where the Welsh Marches meet West Country brogues,
and lane leads onto lane less by design
than luck, mischance, the unlikely logic of an eclogue.
It is too cosy (we are too unkind).
Y Gelli Gandryll: the ‘town of books’: they rise
in staggered stacks and high as any hedgerow.
We cast our eyes across their damaged spines,
lift half-damp leaves stained dirty, haystack yellow,
to check the prices pencilled in the endpapers.
I find Yevtushenko’s Selected Poems
nestled amid flocks of Pelicans and Penguins
(or is he buried in a tomb of cast-off tomes?)
I pay to free him from his feathered graveyard
wondering how he happened to end up here:
A checkpoint bribe? The forged propiska card?
How did he slip across Siberia,
its glacial lakes, fissures of tongue and slate?
‘In the Russian way,’ he says, ‘dancing and weeping
To songs I am unable to translate.’
A sacrifice: some music for some meaning.
The sun sets. The stacks appear to catch
fire—they flare up as we gather in a hall
to hear poets from elsewhere lift the latch
to let the last light in—to taste the ash.
Previously unpublished, © Simon van Schalkwyk
- Simon van Schalkwyk was born and raised in Cape Town, and completed his undergraduate and Honours education at the University of Cape Town. He completed his MA in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, and his PhD at UCT on the translations of the poet Robert Lowell. He teaches at Wits University and is The JRB Academic Editor.