New poetry by Jacques Coetzee

The JRB presents new poetry by Jacques Coetzee.


Pushing and Pulling Time

Dearest, these are the days of maintenance,
of keeping strict tempo. You always loved me
for being flexible about time, for making it
slow down or speed up. But now

the clocks of our bodies tell me
it’s high time to tighten up technique.
Listening to Chet Baker drift his way through
‘Almost Blue’ yesterday, I had to focus
past his lazy voice, the dirty trumpet sound
he got from having his teeth knocked out by an angry dealer,
to the tightness of the band behind him:
the piano and drums carrying that drift
and anchoring it. You could say

it’s time to pull out the metronome,
to synchronise my two hands over the keys.
Or that gravity is against us now, and there’s no-one
else who will lift us up
and frame us carefully in the moment. These words of mine,
these gestures—they must learn
to listen to rhythms not their own,
to be small, precise and terrifyingly sober
before they can push and pull at time again.


I made a bargain … with the Chief Commander
of this earth and the world we can’t see.
—Bob Dylan, No Direction Home

One day you listen deeper to your own voice,
and remember how you wanted to sing the world
open, always knowing
it’s impossible from where you stand. You’d have to start
from another place, in another language, under another name—
you know the way. Whether you set out
from Dublin, Minnesota or Worcester,
you have to start from some misunderstanding.
Otherwise you’ll never leave
your own narrow house. The clever reasons
you can make up later. Just start somewhere,
walking blind, and never stop. That’s all.

Previously unpublished, © Jacques Coetzee, 2022.

  • Jacques Coetzee was born in 1972 and matriculated from the Pioneer School for the Blind in Worcester. In 2002, he obtained a Masters degree in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town. He has worked as a busker at the Cape Town Waterfront, and has tutored English literature to undergraduate students. In 2018, he published a joint anthology of poetry with Barbara Fairhead, The Love Sheet (Hands-On Books). His debut volume of poetry, An Illuminated Darkness, appeared in 2020 (uHlanga Press). He currently lives in Cape Town, where he is a singer-songwriter in the band Red Earth & Rust.
Header image: Mick Bulstra/Unsplash

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

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