Two poems by Theophilus Kwek


It was mid-morning. The body flipped,
came to rest face-down on tarmac.
Unaware, the rider went some distance
then, noticing something was amiss,
stopped, dismounted, ran back to where
a gathering clutch of men knelt and stood.
She was already gone. And so were we,
drawn on by the bus’s trajectory
toward our stops, unseeing, unseen
except in one last receding frame.
Steep death. The mind trips at the shock,
chafes at conversation, replays the scene
till the point at which all fall unplanned –
what then? Imagining gains no ground,

is caught in a morning’s too usual arc.
Hard pavement receives the pedestrian
in step as in flight, accounts to no-one
for what forces in our different lives
plot with foreign accuracy
lines of habit and desire, and bear us
away from accidents. Far behind now,
this leaving leaves its quiet mark. Men,
asked by children about their days,
find fewer answers, telling only truths,
and passing afterwards, see in the place
of yesterday’s routine a rupture
in our time, where past and present
futures meet, stop short. A living fault.
(Shortlisted, Wells Literary Festival Poetry Competition 2015 and published in Ash, Oxford University Poetry Society, Hilary Term, 2016)
After Ottarr Svarti (“the black”), court poet in the last days of Iceland’s Old Commonwealth, who served the kings of Norway and Sweden and Cnut the Great, King of Denmark and England.

Here are our ships with bow-lines strung,
masts lifting the sky, familiar flags hung

around a frozen harbour. Here are our salt-
stained walls, our wives and houses, rooftops

painted with our gods of the gale
and heather. Tomorrow I will sail

again to that world where I earn my keep;
another realm, another winter’s journey

given to hail the step and measure
of someone else’s quest, a foreign shore

unknown but through the whirlwind’s eye
and poets’ inventions. Who am I,

to be a teller of such things? And yet.
I will mend my dull lines, set down a script

for an earl, one nobler than another,
spin my tall tales before his table,

toast the assembled guests, play the fool
as he commands, until the great hall

is filled once more with New Year’s light.
Then the feasting ends. The men depart

on their long soundings, and I return
with my due cargo and my songs.

For now I am king, believing
in words that will beat back the tide of things,

Till after this venture I gain leave to cross
quieter seas, into lands untold: true north.
(published in Ash, Oxford University Poetry Society, Michaelmas Term, 2016)
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 his work has recently been published in The London Magazine, The Adroit Journal, and Southword. He was president of the Oxford University Poetry Society.