Read an excerpt from Stephen Symons’s new collection of poetry, Landscapes of Light and Loss

The JRB presents a poem from Stephen Symons’s new collection, Landscapes of Light and Loss, published by Dryad Press.


The injuries of houses have always been
bandaged by children’s laughter


A place of years folded to days,
of rifles offered to foetal hands
or shotguns muzzling
the spines of wives in satin slips.
There’s the piety of revolvers
in bedside drawers, oiled and within
a fright’s reach, a finger’s length
from a gold leaf bible
and some loose change.


On some nights the wind invites
the thrum of traffic into their homes
like an unwelcome guest.
Their houses bare their wounds
reluctantly. Corrugated roofs
wear a yearlong restlessness.
Birds praise the neighbourhood,
oblivious to its afflictions.
The divine geometry of
the church spire remains.
The arms of the cross
now belong to the owl.


rust-coloured stains
rise up over bricks and concrete
like the histories of a country’s
a flow cheating gravity,
even conscience.

The injuries of houses
have always been bandaged
by children’s laughter,
or coughing labour
of lawn mowers
trimming away the fear
of one final bloodletting.


The prophecies of unwatched TVs
tremor over dimpled walls, curtains,
a maroon blazered school portrait
and a mahogany server
                where the photo of a boy in a brown uniform
                                                                              stands to attention.


The weekend taste of cut grass
and hint of Sunday gravy
pours like gossip into the working week,
whispering names like —
Smith, Visagie or Du Plessis.
Somewhere a rugby commentary
has been playing for days,
                 but it could be an argument.


Something is lodged between the teeth,
tempting and twisting the tongue to set it free.
The streets are empty, bins at the ready,
burdened by black bags,
pear-shaped and knotted
with the secrets of fathers and sons
and their far-off wars.

In a place like this,
                 in a country like this,
                                  there can never be enough ammunition.


© 2018 Stephen Symons, from Landscapes of Light and Loss (Dryad Press, 2018)

  • Stephen Symons holds an MA in Creative Writing (University of Cape Town) and is currently completing a PhD in History at the University of Pretoria. His poetry and short fiction have been published in journals, magazines and various anthologies, locally and internationally. His first collection of poetry, Questions for the Sea, received an honourable mention for the 2017 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, and was also shortlisted for the 2018 Ingrid Jonker Prize. His unpublished collection, Spioenkop, was a semifinalist for the Hudson Prize for Poetry (USA) in 2015. Landscapes of Light and Loss is his second collection of poetry.

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

Header image: Donald Giannatti/Unsplash

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