Read an excerpt from Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese’s poetry collection Loud and Yellow Laughter, winner of the 2018 Ingrid Jonker Prize

The JRB is proud to present four poems from Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese’s collection Loud and Yellow Laughter (Botsotso, 2016), winner of the 2018 Ingrid Jonker Prize for Poetry


Five Hooks in The Air

1.            The Road Hooks

I once lived out on the northern edge.
            No more to tell. It’s just a place—
I lived bending with hills that were covered in trails of bluegrass. Alone.
Here, everything lived tossing in stiff winds.
Even darkness struggled to hitch itself to air. There was a squirreling highway. Deserted.

2.            The Dust Hooks

I moved west.
With only a rucksack full of wooden figurines
            (carved in mother’s image)
I found a place where dust
speckled clung tore across gnawing gooey pupils until eyes
            swollen burst in my skull and seeped—
down my blackened eggshell head
dripping over my beard like candle wax.
I knew then what it meant to walk beneath the shoulders of a crouching town.

3.            The Snow Hooks

I rented a house in a southern village.
I noticed houses grew heavy.
They fell from their sitting positions.
            Some glanced skyward as they collapsed on the cold—
once I ran my fingers along the floorboards and peeling walls.
I knew my home had many reasons to grow so heavy. (Time to go)

4.            The Stone Hooks

            I ran out of money.
For a month I lived sleeping in my winter coat.
Some nights I buried myself between the pews of a church I used to know.
            But out in the churchyard
            there was a strange plot of land.
There was a plot of land that turned in on itself—
ingested even the bones of daffodils and shed the softened skin of stones.
I stood there for a while
watched it purge milk teeth that chattered over the tongue of a playground
I used to know.

5.            Wire Hooks

When I finally got east of the river
I met an old friend I had sold my father’s gun to.
                                                            (He still had it)
We sat on the park bench taking turns with the small silver flask.
      Here, there are indistinguishable motions—
that would fall between us returning parting and pausing turning back and parting again.
There will be no light through the branches. No rising moon. No melting snow.
            Long-eared owls sit on the wire.
            I whispered: Do not look up at them.
I could not stay long in a town where men walk down roads at night with long hands dragging along the cobbles.


Mother’s Lyric (i)

Under two things the earth trembles, under three it cannot bear up:
the barren womb.

This is Formation

This is a gardener            this is a man of faith            this is feverish ground

Two small burning hands
held close to her breast
head on her knees                                burrowed beneath the earth
my young bulb                                      asleep beneath the roots of bluebells

This is fevered ground
this is how the earth swells
this is the soil’s hot breath meeting the chill

See the small gelatin skull                  feel the soft ridges of the spine
hear the bloom of each pore

This is the form I once knew
this was the form

Where were you            when I turned her eyeless face east            said the man of faith

Where were you            when I rooted lilies for eyes                                    said the gardener

This is the bruised tongue            this is the boneless answer            this is the tightly coiled


Mother’s Lyric (ii)

Under two things the earth trembles, under three it cannot bear up:
the unloved woman who is married.

This is Silence

This is what might have been lost            this is how my bones begin to seize up
This is my only way to you

This is me being carried                          a woman being carried out to sea

See how the sun fills my eyes
See how I hang here

With bluebells and lilies                           blooming between my teeth

Suspended                                                            only by the flutter of a hundred moths
  all trapped and crumbling in my skull
                                                                    each falls away into dust

Leaving me empty                         shards of ash spiraling about my head

This is a clenched fist                         this is the release                   the sound of a sigh

The birth of heaviness.


Mother’s Lyric (iii)

Under two things the earth trembles, under three it cannot bear up:
the unbridled tongue.

This is the Sound Passing

Hold out your hand            touch me here            see how hollow I have become

Below the navel          pick apart the seam          throw back your head          open your mouth
          tie down your tongue
          loop the tightened cord
          pull up the boneless answer

This is the tilt and twist
          the cracking joints

This is the tiny bulb I once knew

That swung wide its arms          to grip the imperfect light          and pulled the world open

                                                  Where were you

How long will we rest          cracked/ splintered/ branched around her body like vines.

© Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese, from Loud and Yellow Laughter (Botsotso, 2016)

  • Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese’s poetry has been published locally and abroad, in New Coin, New Contrast, Prufrock, Ons Klyntji, Aerodrome, the Sol Plaatje European Union Anthology, Illuminations and Dryad Press: Unearthed Anthology. She was awarded second place for the 2015 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award, and was shortlisted for the 2016 Gerald Kraak Award for African Writers and Artists and for the 2016 University of Johannesburg Prize in the Debut category. Her debut, Loud and Yellow Laughter, is published by Botsotso Press (2016). She is currently a PhD candidate at Stellenbosch University and interviews editor for New Contrast.

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

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