‘One breath, away’, a new poem by Kelwyn Sole

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents new poetry by Kelwyn Sole.


Under a mucilaginous sky
autumn sidles up to us
bearing pandemic.
blare, in praise of the humble,
those who watch the tills,
deliver meals, take away
the rubbish of the rich.

A drum taps. Does another?

A wind
              Or is that a tickle,
starting in my throat?

In the suburbs, in the slums, on
highways full of tourists’ ghosts,
in shacks kinfull of hunger, in
mansions gorging to repletion,
we learn, finally, that death is
an easy menu to order, though
there’ll be no meal. Our skin:
an edge of calm before the storm.
Our screens,
                      that other comfort food,
reduced to a flicker in the corner.

Late afternoon’s an eerie absence:
cars seem to flit past on wheels
of cotton wool, and a silence
masked and not foreseen tiptoes
across the land
                            then rumours,
which are enough for fear. What
ever the cards are we’re left holding
they’re not stacked like plates, with
any care or pattern: so they’ll fall
as they may.

Each single day coughs up
food lines
                  even as the lungs
of nature start (at last) to reinflate.

Outside the window, at my level,
a sunbird in breeding splendour
eyes me, seems to ask:
‘Are you then all that’s left?’

I can’t answer, yet
                                  if this landscape
is torn irrevocably, or if its seams
will ever knit us back together:
whether the fog that frays the foot
of nearby hills foretells panic:
I know that plague is looming,

            Nor would the sunbird care:
my species has not been kind to his.

(My God, we’ll squeal, ‘We have
been forsaken!’, as if we could
not have seen this coming …).

Previously unpublished, © Kelwyn Sole, 2020

  • Kelwyn Sole is Professor Emeritus at the University of Cape Town, having taught in the Department of English there from 1987 to 2016, retiring as De Beers Chair of English Literature. He has published seven volumes of poetry, the latest of which is Walking, Falling (Deep South, 2017), which won a South African Literary Award in 2018.

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

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