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Theophilus Kwek: Two Poems

Theophilus Kwek


The Crabs

Langkawi, December 2004

All afternoon we followed as they fled
Across the sand, scooping them unawares
In our soft palms to where the older boys
Worked on the defences: heights and towers
Around a cliff-edged pit. Here we dropped
Our struggling prey, stopping only to laugh
At how the more we caught, the harder
They threw themselves against the banks,
As if they also found in not being few
Some greater urgency of escape.

Two weeks later, when the world unlatched
We heard in cadences that we could name
Grief like a wall of water, the sea coming in
After dark to fill our shallow moat,
Break all the windows, and with skint hands
Lift our captives up as if from one death
Wide-eyed, limbs flung into another.


In Those Days

‘No-one in my large family wrote poetry.’ – Anna Akhmatova

There must have been no need, in those days
For books to shut a trapdoor’s mouth, or, laid

Spine to spine, to double a mattress
Against the chilly ground. No need for covers

With colours that bled and stained our clothes,
Boards so bare they let the daylight through

Or jackets, already paper-thin,
To hold fort against snow, keep dry the skin

So raw, so prone to splitting. Strange luxury,
Not to need our dog-eared sheets, the frenzy

In them as yet unthinkable, creases
That seemed to hide the way cheekbones rose

Against our palms’ salt lines. Instead, to have
Still another season to bind the leaves

Fast in their stations, before the curve and shrink
Of winter came to rip the wood clean,

Put a sag in the shelves, then buckle the dead
Dark timber with its flightless load.


Theophilus Kwek is the author of three collections, They Speak Only Our Mother Tongue (2011), Circle Line (2013), and Giving Ground (2016). He won the Jane Martin Prize in 2015 and the New Poets Prize in 2016, and was president of the Oxford University Poetry Society.