after the rain

down at the estuary the river
has breached her bank
pushed the crashing shore
in a tumult of dark water
and waves.
spawning fish wait
on the turning tide.

down at the estuary
between the trees
water flows thick and dark
swirling whirlpools and eddies
along the rocks,
scraping sand and old stories
from deep pools
to the sea to the sea.

down at the estuary
houses have been swamped
silt dumped – boundary fences
matchsticks against the surge,
tide lines smudged below the windows.

there is no owning her
this river full drunk
on big rain
she flows as she will
as she does

down at the estuary
frogs are giving thanks
from earth-bank, reed and tree
a jubilant pulse – entraining
my breath and heart
to the season
while birdsong explodes
from the dripping trees
and wet grassheads are silvering
in morning light.

For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: PRAISING IS WHAT MATTERS


extinction is a biological term
that describes the termination
of a whole group of a species
such that they cannot be found
anywhere on the planet,

in the beginning in the beginning
when the word was light
and light was the world
and becoming and mattering
were one and the same –
we mattered
because we were here –
perfect expressions
of the perfect here now

and the sun
touched our faces
like it touched the bright leaves
of trees and the earth where we stood
rooted –
paths where we moved
flowed capillary, blood vessel
artery across the earth
and we lived
and we ate
and we danced
and we died.
a tree grew
a season turned
and we became and became

there are only two
northern white rhinos left
and both are female
their reproductive capacity

became and became
clever hands clever thoughts
like carry this, move this
stand this stone
in the name of all that is holy.

like make make make this
like more make this more

like what if death comes
before we are done

like what if our work here is important
separate from
the work of the world
becoming and becoming

like what if we are more

and in our thinking
there came to be
a hole
a little bit of space
for the seed
of our own obsolescence

extinction is a biological term
that describes the termination
of a whole group of a species
such that they cannot be found
anywhere on the planet,
or the surviving members
no longer have the ability
to propagate their species.

without a planet can we?
without a living planet
do we have the ability
to propagate our species?

late afternoon and the light comes slow –
in a house long ago.
foot against the balustrade
i rock the old chair –
soft upholstered, carved spiral arms,
my mother’s and my mother’s mother’s
before me –
small as a cat
my daughter sleeps on my chest
as i did
as my mother did

our forgetting came
like a dark cloud across our world
first in story then in deed
and in our forgetting
we became forgotten –
knowing our unknowing in our bones’
an infinitely insatiable hunger
that wants more more more
until we have destroyed
that which we were –
and become and become

but clever hands, clever thoughts
carved and wove too,
sung stories to the night of our being
and our becoming and the light of long stars
touched our faces like it touched the bright leaves
of trees and the earth where we stood
rooted us –
and in those stories we knew we lived
infinite infinity
arranging and rearranging atoms
until and still
we were all one and the same
tree, leaf, human, stone, egret
and we spoke the tongues
of the deer –
walked the silent feet of elephant
and remembered
and remembered

in the face of all that is the world today
large electronic corporations
among others
still design their products
with planned obsolescence
a circuit break here
a malfunctioning screen connection there
a finite battery that cannot be replaced
there is no repair
throw away
away away
out of sight out of mind –
the new one is shinier
newer better
see how clear the images
how fast the answers
look the wormy worm chases its tail
chases its tail across the screen
– don’t look away
this is all the world
here – here is a new one
have this one
never never look away.

if the whole point of our existence
was to be one voice among the many
just one pattern fractal
of this ever dancing light
then our destruction of our home
our silencing of other voices
diminishes and diminishes us
until we too are no more

and what if death comes
before we are done
is the purpose of a candle
to burn until it is finished
or cast light while it is


For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: EXTINCTION TALES

Linking to Earthweal’s open link weekend #93

the body remembers

and what does the body remember
rain that runs rivulets down spine,
cold stars, warm fire
hunt, chased, dancing, dancing
the earth so full of teeming
there was no telling
our heartbeat from the night.

and who knew
this lonely silence
would come.
this slow slide to comfort
keeping death from our doors
until death became the unspoken
the why of every moment of half living.

does it remember
the body
does it remember
the ripple soft of spot pelt
catching light for a half breath
amongst the trees
the noise of silence exploding
like a heartbeat of thundering
hooves in our ears –

because of course in this moment
our living and dying greet each other,
slowly circle dance,
bow their heads to one another,
a half smile playing their lips
before turning and walking away
while the space that was leopard
or jaguar or lynx is filled
with the noise that is forest
and our our breath crowds our lungs
aches with the joy of the living
and we put our hands to the path
palm down on the yielding earth
and give thanks

we loadshed here
a strange word for a population growing faster
than an ageing electricity infrastructure
can provide for – electricity going down
for two and a half hour periods
scheduled through the day and night
to ease demand and keep the
maws of industry devouring resources
to keep the economy of the country
tick tick (tick tick tick)
ticking over

and yes it is inconvenient
internet, study schedules, deadlines
laundry – but our climate is mild
the days are long
we do not need electricity
to keep us alive.

and yet and yet
our language betrays us
we call electricity power
speak of losing power
and our power going down.
as if all that we are
can be held fragile in a lightbulb
flickering now
on the edge of the long dark
of our own oblivion.

when we came here as children
holidaying from the city
stayed in the camp site down the hill
before it was a national park –
lived nomad for a week or two
among caravans and tent pegs
criss-crossing our running games
evening air blue with braai smoke.
the river packed with bathers
and powerboats – tanned skiers playing
peter stuyvesant ads in their speedos
and water spray.
we were there too,
children of the sixties and seventies
my brother and i in his red canoe –
dodging the big boats
rocking wildly in their wake,
an oil slick of sunscreen on the water –
until we cleared the old railway bridge
and the forest drew thick and close.

you see, we had a mission
there was a bird that lived only here
it was called the knysna loerie back then,
more correctly knysna turaco now.
large by suburban standards
greener than forest, crested
red winged. white eyeliner
framing the eye like an egyptian goddess –
we had poured over its picture so many times
read all about it, and one day
we would see it swoop
red green magnificence
from tree to tree
across river.

beyond the noise of engines and campers
we let the quiet of the forest have us –
lifted our splashing paddles
and let the incoming tide drift us
silent up the river
whispering to each other
urgent, alert. skin prickling with anticipation
we waited.

we never saw one.

thing is, the loeries are fruit eaters.
the farmers in the hills above,
where we now live, grew fruit
a semi subsistence kind of growing
so far from the cities –
it would be many years
before the wilderness national park
was declared and consolidated
before farmers would be discouraged
from shooting the loeries
that came less and less
to gorge themselves in their trees.

late afternoon in my twenties
new arrived on a camping trip higher up the river –
a call of monkey or frog
or something large and guttural
ripped the long shadowed light
and straining my eyes to see
what swayed the branches
and shimmied the leaves
a loerie
bright wings extended
leapt into the sky overhead
taking the long sweep
from tree to tree
over the black water river
reflecting sky.

by the time i moved here in my thirties
the population would be stabilised
harmony restored.

and the reason we ignore
the elephant in the room
is that it is no longer there.

we shot it
hacked tusks from the flesh and bone
of her face to make piano keys
and chess pieces.

wrote her thick hide
into stories of our own.

and yet and yet
we remember
that it is not our ability
to grow food that kills us –
not our living dance
with seasons and harvest
and birth and death.
not our long love of place
that cost us our planet,
but the simple lie
that everything has a price –
is a resource
can be sold
and bought.
and then we remember
that we are this earth too –
that in buying and selling
each tree, hide and glittering rock
each square of land and living being
that we too have become resource
and can be bought
and caged
and sold.

but the elephant we hoped to see –
aah the knysna elephant
biggest of the forest dwellers
were not as lucky
as the loerie.

and what does the body remember
rain that runs rivulets down spine,
cold stars, warm fire
hunt, chase, dancing, dancing
the earth so full of teeming
there is no telling
our heartbeat
from the night.

this body remembers
the animal it was
remembers gill and claw
and tree branch firm underfoot
remembers who we are
thick browed, sharp scents on evening air
remembers every mutation, extinction
becoming and becoming
until this now

this body remembers
that we break down
we fall apart
a flutter of energy and mud
we reconfigure
we rebuild
we live.

For Sherry Marr at earthweal’s weekly challenge: THE GREAT FORGETTING

(holy) well

there are no cruel
and bitter gods here,
no winter frosts
that bite black death
in the shortening days –

our gods are moon and sun
and the green green growing,
our gods are river and tree,
the grass rattle seeds of summer
and the songline of birds
singing bridges between worlds –

the gods here speak frog-tongue
fly translucent on insect wings
shatter the darkness
with a cacophony of stars.
the gods here

into the dark quiet
we drop a stone
count the silence
until it is swallowed
by water

know only that
somewhere in the depths
is a surface
rippling now
with our measure
and beyond that
and depth
and depth enough
to slake our desire
quench our thirst.

of course we brought those
cruel and bitter gods here too
brought our gods of paradise lost
to paradise – carried them bone jangling
in the pit of our stomach.
eat or be eaten
kill or be killed
tried to make the world as we thought it
until we learned to see.

there is no right way up on this globe
north and south can be either here or there –
but our bodies like sunflowers
know the seasons and poles
turn and turn towards the light

and will there be feasting
on the shores of tomorrow –
will our feet still imprint
our wild spinning dance –
will the tide take our prayers
like a blossom to the tide.

the trees that blossom here
were planted on the ashes
and bones of our dead.
these trees that blossom here
were planted –
roots running deep,
seeking the holy well.

For Brendan at earthweal’s weekly challenge: ALL SOULS


i had not meant to
flush diederik cuckoo from
the mulberry tree, first light

just bird called a song
i had not heard close
and loud before.

but he came emerald wings
flashing in early sun
landed bright close
on the blossom peach
looked at me
each as startled as the other

mid october when you bite
into first peach of the season
(even when it is not from your tree
because the early fruiters are not
established enough to fruit early
or consistently) but first of the season
here never the less
and sweet summer swims your tongue
and you lift your face
to the bluest of october skies
and know that all of it lives and dies
and lives again and yet still, here you are
leaning on the door frame
eating a ripe peach in the sun.

going south west
between here and the city
you drive the bread basket of the country
hours of soft hills and gentle flats
planted hundreds of kilometres
to wheat and canola and maize –
soil cleansed, left bare to that bright blue sky
between harvest and planting
wind squalls and big rains bleeding silt
into small seam creeks that might have lived.

this is how we feed ourselves
all of us. this is what the world looks like
when put all our metaphorical eggs
in just one basket.
there never can be any resilience
in a monoculture.
just pesticides and prayer
a precarious place to be
in a changeable world

brown watersnake rests
in the pond at the door
its body sinuous as waterlily stems
in the dapple leaf light
barely keeping nostril and eye
above water, it waits and
warms in the underwater sun
and i wonder what it is
to live so cool that warmth
is light through leaf through water.

along the catchment of a small tributary
of the touw, neighbours have gathered
to clear wattle from deep valleys
years of work to restore what we let slide

wattle was introduced
to the cape colony in 1871
to bolster its burgeoning industry.
a beautiful tree with useful tannins,
it was given a warm welcome –
what we did not know,
could not know
was fertile soil was waiting for
seed carried in a pocket, in a gut,
down a river – and with neither pest
nor parasite to halt its growth
the wattle grew faster and thirstier
than this soil had ever known before –
crowding out forest and fynbos
in its quiet green colonisation
until mountain side and deep valley alike
sighed its blue green monoculture –
drying riverbeds tinder
in the eye of the flame.

seems without our soil to remind us
we are no more than our thirst
growing rampant unchecked.

slow evenings
feeding goats in the almost dark,
stars nestle new leaf
amongst the pecan branches
first one, then another
then another
until the night
teems and throbs
with the living.

the problem with monoculture
is that there is no resilience
without diversity.
all across the world
we have embraced
this western capitalism –
merged markets, expanded globally

we have sold our gods and trees
for tourist dollars and thneeds
and here we are on our knees
on the crumbling steps
of the temples of
bigger better more

we have stuffed our pockets
and our faces overfull
until too slow to move
too slow to think
too slow
to hear or see or feel
we watch our own collapse
swipe to a new screen
watch our own collapse

and what if
on a day like any other
phone alarm school bus email
what if we planted seeds
with the full of the moon
danced barefoot
on earth paths new made
smeared mud on our faces
laughing with arms open to the sky.
what if we rose with the moon.

what if we didn’t.

For Brendan at earthweal’s weekly challenge: A BIODIVERSE POETRY


before you slip away,
unbidden and unbound
as you are to my world,
or i turn away from yours.
before the air
that condensed to your form
thins falters and returns
and we are no more
to one another
than play of light.
to look upon your face
begins the unraveling
of my world,
but looking away
has brought us to this brink.
ask me creature,
are you the other
that creates my i –
or am i the other
that forms you

26 february 2018

Reposting an older poem for earthweal’s weekly challenge: THE NATURE OF ENCHANTMENT


beyond where the slope
deep into valley
where the trees
beyond time
and each breath becomes a prayer
to our unspoken gods
there, moss cushioned, will i
for you

in the dark
of the water
among shards of light
swimming the softing tide –
thrum of river
quenching my skin,
playing my bones
deer flute
to the forest sky.
there in the deep
among our shards
of light, will i
for you

in the light between
among the trees
that sway slow between
our worlds
where the surface
scatter light of dark water
become stars of your
night sky, there
will you
for me.

For Brendan at earthweal’s weekly challenge: THE NATURE OF ENCHANTMENT

finding beauty

heading towards the drylands
road unravelling in the heat beyond
and beyond and beyond
crossing rivers with names that once were
seekoei, olifant and leeuenbosch
folding their green secrets
into damp seams of memory
and shaded river grass
passing fields of wind turbines
towering the grey veld and termite mounds

and we yearn and lean across the distance
tailing the long mountains
watching soil change from black to orange to red
the sky growing wider
higher through deep valley aloes

passing through a city
and out the other side
beyond the bricked suburbs
and unchecked industy
plastic blooms on thornbushes
amongst magenta vygies
and orange daisies where
young boys herd fat goats in noon sun –
the winter rains have been good.

and still the road unfurls
and unfurls to meet you
until balcony in this city far away
among bare branches in new leaf
gymnogene scrapes the blueness of sky
circling close overhead
before feathers catching light
she takes altitude
disappears from sight

For Sherry at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: COLLATERAL BEAUTY


saturday early and the chickens
are singing up a storm
old women on wooden pews
thin church voices vining the rafters,
soon it will be day enough
to open their door
scatter the grain –
leave them
to their bustling and scratching
before the rain.

in knysna the roads
are crammed with tourists
escapees from the city
seeking holy days and silence
becoming the noise they left behind

under a brooding sky spring daisies
open sun petals along the shore –
house boats with quiet windows wait
tethered against the tide.

i didn’t know
i was holding my breath
(because we do forget to breathe
and sometimes we are afraid
when it is all off-kilter
and the seasons might have shifted
with the warming and the rising
and the crisis in every corner)
i didn’t know
i was holding my breath
until last day of september
red chested cuckoo finally
sang the spring
though gush blossoms had been
speaking the world for weeks.

and i want to ask him what kept him
when august usually speaks his name
calling and calling his love

but who am i to question love
with this heart half a century
and still slow unfolding.

the house is a little empty
with all the comings and goings
we have rearranged the furniture
made more space
to dance the return.

and in here somewhere
the world creaks and turns
and perhaps now it it over
the long lockdowns and quiet isolations
perhaps we meet palm to palm
foreheads touching
skin eyes skin and
my breath not death to the other –
perhaps now it truly begins.

laid bare by the waiting
and walking of this place
shedding all that wasn’t
couldn’t shouldn’t be
the sacred grove of your being
teaches quiet feet of all that is holy

is it too late
paper crane
to learn that
sometimes we fly
by unbecoming
what we thought
we were.

Linking to Earthweal’s open link weekend #86

speaking here


i have written your words on my skin
to hold while i learn to speak you.
shaped my tongue and breath around names
that ache with the smell of you,
murmured exhaled ripples
along my palate
across your pebble bed back
to the edge of sandy places
where your forest being
crowds the shore.

i have written what the birds sing
and the shape of morning leaves
in letters and ink on my skin
to hold them close
until i learn
to speak you.


November 2015

Re-visiting an older poem for Sherry at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: SAY THE NAMES