the mountain

some mornings i forget
with the metal of wheelbarrow
leaning cool into the curl
of fingers damp with mash,
the grind of grit in axle
a constant to the step gravel crunch
of road underfoot
buckets shuffling
among the slices of hay

and the stamp and breath of horses
waiting down the end of the road,
old now with sharp flanks
and gentle eyes,

and it is okay
it is okay –
we bloom
we fade
we bloom again

and some mornings
breath comes hard
with weight of bale
or sacks of grain that were
nothing to me
when the girls were young
and i shaped the world
one handed with a child on hip.
and some mornings
breath comes heavy
rushing the empty
spaces they leave behind
when they go.

some mornings
i forget there is a mountain
forget to lift my eyes from the road
forget to look above the the crowded hedges
of blue spire plectranthus and cape honeysuckle
wild orange and thick bright with wings
and bird chatter.

some mornings i forget
that the earth underfoot
is where the mountain that rises
high peak above green folds began.
that my feet have been turning to stone
that i have been here
woman becoming mountain
all along.

and autumn came and shook the trees

between you and i
my love
my love
are the endless hills
clay baked and
stubble stripped now
of soil and summer for harvest,
with blue crane dust smiting
and standing sentinel
of the water trough
in red dust fields
fenced and owned.

between you and i my love
is thirst,
and this road that
stretches like a hand
like an arm
reach hold.
like a tongue parched
dry riverbed
that cannot speak its watery name

and away away
mountains mark the journey
strung like jewels
deep forest creased
and purple like promise
against the sky.
like the spine of a beast
crackling synapse and life
between you and i
my love
my love
our mountain bones hum
the words we hardly spoke

i am stretched
like these hills
bridging the space between,
hold on my love
the seasons turn and turn again

i wait here in the rain shadow
for your return

but there are stars

so late my love
and the day still needs doing
though sun has long slipped the horizon
and only the night jar still sings,

but there are stars now
my love
aching with light long held –
come breathe with me
this unravelling sky.

the listening

in the quiet light
of mist morning
birdsong falls like rain

condensation
leaf gathered
and poured
for the thirsty,
the waiting,
the listening –

birdsong falling
like rain
from the trees.

impeccable beauty

high summer
on a damp air on skin morning
i had moved an armchair
outside the front door to write
because the house was sleeping
and the light seeping through leaves
impeccable.

time passed unmoving
while skinless
in the warmth
of the soft mist morning
i could no longer feel
where my body ended,
where i began.

boundless, i breathed –
i was very aware
of inhabiting this body,
but aware too
that this house
this garden
was my body too

that this soft green growing
these windows for the light
were my body,
the road where i walk
to look for the moon
was my body.

this community
of landscape and beings
these forest hills
and the soil beneath my feet,
this mountain here where we live
and the ocean down the hill.
all of it me
in concentric circles
ever expanding
until i am nothing
and everything
in this moment sharing breath

and within this, other i’s
other me’s
other beings inhabiting
their concentric circle bodies –
flitting and scurrying
warm hearts beating
veined wings scattering light –
human and tree, fungus and rock
each the centre of a circle
knowing that all of this
that is me that is you
that is us
is one being
that together
we are the pattern
that is life

and we remember
to walk gently
aware of our communal body,
remember that self-care
is a planetary endeavour,
remember what is needed
to keep the pattern whole.

15 july – first blossom

 

we had stones and bones
to mark the time,
moons scratched on the doorpost
counting months until birth
until harvest,
counting lean months until planting

and none of it shifted
but the ebb and flow of generations
swirling the tide,
burying the bones –
ancestors and descendants of place
lapping at the granite edges
of timelessness

and when the light turned
aligned, touched,
year after year
the immoveable stones
reflected the transience
of seasons and lives
the remarkable incandescence of now

the day in the kitchen when side by side
the third born is suddenly tallest of all
and a generation of daughters
become women who mark the moon,
count notches in bone indent,
lap at the granite edges of time.

the morning after the river burst its banks
window high, the campers told us
how they had watched that river swell
swirl dark and foaming through the night –
sure of its wildness but not its proximity
they dropped rocks to mark the tide –
went out by torchlight to mark
and mark again the quiet encroachment
until it was clear she would spill the flatlands
and the call was made to evacuate.

and most days we
are just scrambling in the undergrowth
for stones that will tell us
here and no further,
this tree, this whale, this wetland
will be the last to fall.

this coal plant, this gasfield,
this factory farm
is more than the earth can mitigate

while the fool watches
from his house on the dunes,
our stick in the sand
against the turning tide,
as month by month
the ocean nibbles a little closer
erodes a fools foundation
until he cries foul play –
burns fuel that rises oceans
to empty the ocean
from his sandbagged home.

year after year i mark the dates –
transient on paper that will compost or burn,
first blossom, first cuckoo,
hatching of the pepper-tree caterpillars in june,
small stones against the pushing tide.
and the seasons turn predictable
on and on

For Earthweal’s weekly challenge: A song for shifting baselines   

nested ecologies: i am because you are

“to be,
to exist,
means to be so
for the community
and for the other”*

the self emerges
butterfly stretching wings
hippo from the river
termites taking flight
after rain,
the self emerges
from relationship with others
and with the dust, rock and tree
of the world

the human is never alone
she is part of the creature humanity
in constant communication
and communion
with one another
in permanent listening
to the pulse of the world
skin close contact
with the stars.

within you
within me
are vast ecologies
a microbial fauna and flora
weighing as much as our brains.
a functioning ecosystem
of diverse individuals
who think of us(perhaps)
as planet home.
every living breath we take
becomes the breath of many

and what if we learned
when we were children
that this mountain
had a name as old as she
and both she and her name
are sacred
what if we knew
how to tend our forest
like our family
what would it mean
to plant a tree
to be embedded in this place
doing as we would be done by.

could we learn
that “a solitary human
is a contradiction in terms”* 
could we learn to speak anew
to lay hands on the earth
and truly say
i am because you are.

because when elephants die
hundred unexplained
when we lose pangolin
and clawless otter and the brenton blue,
the place where they lived in us
shrinks a bit more
we become diminished
less human than we were before

and as the sun breaks
between cloud,
catches sunbird
singing iridescent
on the rain hung branch,
i too, for a moment
am sung iridescent

remembering
that we have been here all along
becoming and becoming
that which we already are.

 

*humanitysteamsa.org

*uBuntu – Desmond Tutu

 


For Sarah at Earthweal’s weekly challenge:   Looking for a new hierarchy.  

bulbine

when the girls were small
with a scratch or graze
our first aid response was
go pick some bulbinella
and they would run off still smarting
and sometimes drying tears
to the patch of sun
where the fat leaves grew miraculous
beneath its orange and yellow spires
and they would snap a leaf
squeeze translucent gel
onto scrape or sting
or run back inside
brandishing the leaf
for ministrations.

It still grows there
in the same patch in sun
testament to a time that was

and does it help
if i told you my aunt died
on tuesday
alone in hospital
because covid has closed ward visits
even for stroke patients
and did she know why
no one came to hold her hand
or say their goodbyes

i could tell you
the black hen
has turned broody
and is sitting
twelve eggs
and that my sister in law
has tested positive
riding it out the illness
at home in another city

or how thursday light moved
over the mountain
while i sat in my car
in town with a mask on
because there is nowhere to be
while you wait with a book
for your husband to have more tests
to find out where he is losing blood

or that i spent a whole day
cutting firewood this week
not for pressing need
but because weekend storms
had downed branches
and i am trying to remember
what care of the land
feels like in this woman’s body
and the day was perfect beautiful
and i had to do something justifiably busy,
anything rather than write

while the whole world balks bloodless
staring down our reflections
in this still pool of the present

and none of this is poetry
except perhaps the moon
touching leaves
or the bruises on my knees
from snapping branches
not ready yet
to break.


For Earthweal’s weekly challenge: A Sufficient Poetry

common ground


friday evening finds me, eve of solstice
oiling my spinning wheel
adjusting the drive band and spindle whorl
until the wheel turns true –
the wood glowing warm by firelight.
this wheel is older than i,
felled from a forest in someone else’s backyard,
continents away – worked and shaped and turned
until the maker honoured the source
and this spinning wheel existed
where none had been before.
passed on, passed down, stored in an attic
sat on a shelf broken,
bought sold
sold bought
mine

i have a spinning lesson in the morning,
we have agreed to meet under the trees
in the parking area of the farmers market, corona style.
i have not taught for months,

(and of course i thought about the drive –
20min to sedgefield
beautiful past lakes and hills
long mountains still soft
in morning light –
i had missed this early drive –
wondered about the fuel i used to get there
where it might come from –
whose water it might of poisoned
and whether, in this country of distances between,
we could live yet
without the drive)

her spinning wheel has a story as they do
she has lovingly sanded down years of neglect
and the wood of her wheel sings smooth stories
of forests and makers, of the years of quiet dust and long
waiting for someone whose heart
would quicken to the rhythm of foot on treadle.
a few adjustments to band and brake
and the old wheel does what she was made for.

the rhythm of spinning lives within us –
the feel of a twist of fibre between fingers
and rhythm of foot on treadle is enough
to remember what we forgot we knew –
new thread, new beginnings
new stories wind slowly
onto the old wooden bobbin
of a newly remembering spinner

back home the white cat greets us
on the pathway bench,
brush tail swishing question marks
as she leads the way inside.
by nightfall she will be lost to the forest –
some wild correcting of balance
some need for solstice blood
i cannot begin to understand
heartbroken
we walk the deep paths for days
calling – hoping for her return.

in the afternoon,
(still unaware of the white cat’s departure)
in perfect light we plant trees on the graves
of those lost to the year.
this is the heavy edge of our living,
a forest edge holding space for our domestic existence
on the fringes of this reclaiming forest
that still claws for its very existence too.
conversations between prey and predator
are loud here, boundaries redrawn with the seasons
as the young forest grows tall with the years.

i am trying to remember how to be a farmer
and lover and deer path follower too,
how to love the goat and the caracal equally –
not as an abstract, but as a practise
and i know fifteen years in one place
is only long enough to show me my impatience
and harmony will take more lifetimes than mine –
so today we plant forest trees on our fallen,
may their shade bare witness to this living.

usually on winter solstice the house is filled with people,
a warmth of noise spilling out into the night
together we face the longest darkest night of the year
have soup and spicy apple, light lanterns, sing the songs –
but lockdown has kept our gates closed for months
this year the house is quiet.
heavy with concern for the white cat and the darkening forest
the girls have been out calling
and have now closed themselves in their rooms.

alone i light the flame
under the clear winter sky
sing the songs below my breath,
beg the forest for her safe return
but honestly i do not know
what deal may have been brokered
in the wild of the forest beyond my imagining
what sacrifice might have been offered
to the turning of this year

later, full dark under a quiet sky
my oldest daughter and i walk alone with our lanterns
to the top of the hill, as we have every year
since we have lived here.
stripped of the bravado
of a group of noisy singers
the road is dark and quiet
our feet finding time
in the gravel crunch underfoot –
our flickering candles more a hindrance to sight
than guidance along the way
tonight there is vulnerability in this walking
this offering of our light
on long dark night of this year
there are stars on the top of the hill
a year finding a moment to catch its breath
there is an ease on the way home
it is after all
all downhill from here

tomorrow the sun will rise
on a world turned towards the light.
tomorrow the white cat might return
(though what we know of witches
are that they are infinitely practical
and black cats blend
into forest shadow)
tomorrow we will wash the fleece,
spin the wool, harvest the greens, see the trees turn bud –
our dreams will still be stalked
by beasts that smell wild sweet
as this rich dark soil
where we stand
on common ground.

In response to Earthweal’s weekly challange: Culture and Nature