Kelwyn Sole’s Absent Tongues

© Image by Liesl Jobson

Kelwyn Sole was born in Johannesburg in 1951 and has lived in Windhoek, London and Kanye. At present he is a Professor in the English Department of the University of Cape Town. Absent Tongues (Hands-On Books, 2012) is his sixth collection of poetry. His other collections include The Blood of Our Silence (Ravan, 1987), Projections in the Past Tense (Ravan, 1992), Love That is Night (Gecko, 1998), Mirror and Water Gazing (Gecko/UKZN Press, 2001) and Land Dreaming: Prose Poems (UKZN Press, 2006). 

A stammer that passes for language
Driving all night …
on my radio
just one maudlin singer
to replace another –
crackles of static –
with two
          hands steering
towards whatever
direction has
     I try
          to make sense
of each augmented beat,
every concussive affectation
each time your bravado passes,
    going the other way on
          much faster wheels
– until finally
prayers and curses,
as the scalding voice
of an ambulance flares red
between the fields.
What did you want to say to me?
I wanted to say
we share meaning
only as bodies in collision:
picking through strewn wreckage,
looking for a limb to recognise,
hoping to take it home.
Tin roof
Autumn works away like a carpenter
dismantling the promises of spring –
our shelters brought so slowly down
it’s hard to recollect when each wall
fell, foretell when each corrupt plank
will crumble. Too lush a green
is the colour that warps away
from the grass to leave a yellow
dull as urine from a spiteful god,
but a reference we are used to.
To go on living, here, requires a house,
a cat, and an expectation at least
about a future where the eggs
can poach, the cat heave its body
with a thump through the small door
that human hands have sawn for it;
requires a house, preferably of stone,
squatting its grey toad weight on the land
and refusing to budge for anyone.
Such houses are no longer built.
All that remains is a sky
migrating birds fly up towards
like wrenched-out nails, a moon
that bristles with convulsions of cloud
too scrawny to bring more rain
– the dry centre of our hearts laid bare –
and stars dipping nearer to a horizon
over which they will soon loiter.
Cold batters on each face exposed
with all of its bleak hammers:
there’s just no way to smile left
but to keep squinting upwards like a fool
even as our doors unhinge, eyes
turn to mirrors of broken glass.
The only way to keep warm now
is to build a dwelling out of air,
draw invisible blankets to your chin;
painstakingly think your home around you.
Mine will have already open doors,
too many rooms in case of children –
I’ll call high windows into being
(to watch the sky plait a million blues)
add a family room for everyone
who may choose to be related.
I’ll put a tin roof on my dreams
for any young ones with stentorian boots
that’s silly enough for love. Even though
the cupboards open to only an echo
passers-by will stop amazed
that such a house can take a shape
– though never, I know, in envy.
There. Now I’ve no recourse but to live.
This is the house my hunger built:
the pain hides where you want it.
from Absent Tongues (Hands-On Books, 2012).
Order Absent Tongues from
Read more about Kelwyn at Poetry International Web.

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