Two new poems by Karen Jennings

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents previously unpublished poetry by Karen Jennings.



We were both teaching then
and more than half afraid
of what the pupils thought

as we wandered the cracked
tar of the schoolyard
in hot summer during break,

making our rounds
to see that they behaved.
Yet mostly we avoided them,

stood under a large tree
noisy with crisp packets,
toeing the uneven ground

as boys played football
on a field of dust
and called out words

that we pretended not to hear.
Still, we knew it was us
they were laughing at,

those teenagers seeing clearly
what we could never
say out loud:

that we were drawn to
one another, afraid
to be found out

before the clang and startle
of the bell summoned us inside,
back to order

and the hoarseness of
lessons voiced too loud
over whispers made to mock.


Photo: December 2016

On that mountain road
we passed riders
from nearby farms.
They wore cowboy hats,
checked shirts, boots,
a rope coiled at their thighs.

I took a photo as you drove.
There was no stopping;
not on the narrow pass
where already they held
the horses to the edge.

Trucks sped by,
loaded with produce
meant for the coast and Rio,
their horns loud enough
to make the horses toss and pitch.

When I look back
at items from that time,
it’s this photo that strikes me most.
A valley greened to blur, the smudge
of a distant chapel, and

in the foreground a
frightening eye,
rimmed by white.
A staring thing, gaping out from
borders fierce as moonlight,
around a dark savagery
never fully mastered.


From Space Inhabited (forthcoming), © Karen Jennings

  • Karen Jennings holds Masters degrees in both English Literature and Creative Writing from UCT, and a PhD in English Literature from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her debut novel, Finding Soutbek, was shortlisted for the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature. In 2014, her short story collection, Away from the Dead, was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Her memoir, Travels with my Father, was published in 2016. She is working on postdoctoral research at the Federal University of Goiania, Brazil.

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

Header image: Jens Herrndorff/Unsplash

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