New poetry by Rethabile Masilo—‘For Peter Horn (1934–2019)’

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents a previously unpublished poem by Rethabile Masilo.


For Peter Horn (1934—2019)

We howled into the loudspeakers
held to our mouths, hard, like chalk
on a blackboard, on an iron rock,
on the things that fate forces in.
On the things that face us with our hands
tied. We said voetsek to the season
in our mouths, harsh as sandpaper
on skin. We spoke to men with no ears,
to tell them this is not the moment
to take our professor out of his time,
men with no eyes on their featureless faces,
angels who, we know, keep a strict clock.
We said things we had been fed by our lives,
things he had on the cutting board of poetry
with other ingredients waiting their turn.
We wriggled, and hoped sweat would help
free our hands, so we could pick up
a book of his, pick a poem dangling
from his marula tree, drink its alcohol.
But the voice is dead and it’s like ripping
tongues from the members of a gulag.
There is death when the sun sinks west
and we know it’s coming back, and death
when the river dries up but leaves wells
along its banks that taste just as sweet.
Child wells weeping to the Drakensberg.
And there’s the death of a Cape buffalo
when it charges, with its horns low,
like a forklift, and it takes us higher,
as it hopes for a better understanding
from us in future, of nature and the ways
of our existence. Peter is that death.


Previously unpublished, © Rethabile Masilo, 2019

  • Rethabile Masilo was born in Lesotho and lives in Paris, France. He has published three volumes of poetry, Things That Are Silent (Pindrop, 2012), Waslap (Onslaught, 2015; winner of 2016 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry), Letter To Country (Canopic Publishing, 2016) and Qoaling (Onslaught, 2018). He has also co-edited two Onslaught Press anthologies.

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

Header image: Jonas Denil/Unsplash

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