New poetry by Simon van Schalkwyk

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents previously unpublished poetry by Simon van Schalkwyk.

State rapture

It’s always weird to see an ATM
wrenched from a wall. A vestigial nerve
stirs in the ganglia of financial man.
He scans devices, watching things unfold—
stores reduced to rubble, mosques and malls
setting themselves on fire, a baby,
tossed from the ledge of a burning building, hangs
in the air, waiting to be delivered
into the mob-armed cradle down below.
But, to him, it is the shot of the man
eloping with a tumescent dildo
that cuts to the mute heart of the matter.
He has been living in a state of siege for years
and now he has his shameless heart’s desire—
9 inches of love, the promise of bondage.
I wonder if the cops will let him have it?


Bad debt

Gazing at the sea through double-glazing,
I mist the tower window with a breath
and vanish the dawn.

I’ve had my share of secretaries, days arranged
for coffee, listings, more coffee.
A litany

of phone calls, phone calls, phone calls. The 11am
meeting, lunch at Il Leone Mastrantonio.
‘Clear my schedule,’ I said,

‘shift everything to the day after the day
after tomorrow.’ And then I walked
down to the sea wall,

where I heard the breakwater repeating
the same question again, but somehow
differently. Unbuttoning

my shirt for air, I sent my necktie windward
and watched it fall, ferreting
through midday traffic.

Familiar men unburdened me of my possessions
and I gave all, willingly, and said
‘now leave me.’

Drifting through deadzones beneath flyovers,
I crossed concrete islands till I joined
the rough sleepers

gathered in the portcullis, dreaming their way through
the Castle walls. A cold front curves our spines
into a series

of commas—and someone calls the police—
another concerned citizen.
What does this

have to do with the day’s orders? Small port—
forgetful, forgettable, forgotten.
You run absent fingers

through your hair’s burnt candyfloss, boiling sweets
of tamarind in the slaver’s lodge
for the carnival.


The bear

‘A great disaster had befallen Russia: …’

How will we meet the end of our confinement?
Arms open to the rain, embracing the ice of deadwinter,
or paying a visit to Shelomova the bear,
tracking shaggy circles through her open pen?
Will you join me, watching this display of ursine madness,
saliva dangling from the slack, half-opened jaw,
thinking that the bear is searching for its own lost mind?

Here, under the weeping jacarandas, we tramp on,
down pavements scoured purple as Australia,
past the jaguar, staring from the shadows with green eyes
at another young couple cuddled against the future.
They have been outside since forever, as if nothing happened.
And maybe nothing has happened, could ever happen to them,
dissidents, trustees, comrades of the unspectacular future.

Previously unpublished, © Simon van Schalkwyk, 2023

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