we the reaching, the falling and the fallen.

and when the rain falls
early morning warm –
bare feet, bare arms
face to the sky –

when the rain falls
we the trees,
the many legged,
the soft fungus parasol unfolding –

we the bright wings,
the sharp eyed,
and the soil underfoot –

we the feet
and the walking
and the soft rain falling,

we speak with one voice
saying thank you
and thank you
and thank you.

For Sherry Marr at Earthweal”s weekly challenge: DECOLINIZING OUR MINDS – read her wonderful prompt here https://earthweal.com/2023/01/09/decolonizing-our-minds/



almost summer now
and days stretch, longer
evenings gold and thick with
life open like a window in time –

sunstained by berries
rasp and young, goose and straw
i find myself, last light, in the garden
with wattle and string in hand,
scissors precarious in pocket,

(and it is hard not to be in love here
with this soil this place this earth
with these gods of here
whose names i have never known –
gods who stir and sigh
at the edge of our
living and dying
it is hard not to be in love

building trellis and temple
for the tomatoes that grow
elbow to finger tip by the day –
for the purple beans that
are reaching beyond their
cross-weave poles into the guava
and onto the shaggy sod-roof
of the hen house,

purple black sap pods
hang in handfuls
ready for the picking,
firm sticks for jalapeno and brinjal
while the sky seeps into the hill

and as the toad stirs
from its leaf home shallow dug
under the chamomile
for its night toading

i say my thanks close the gate
go inside to cook the beans
chop the greens

this always was
this might always be
this is

For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: TENDING A DIFFICULT GARDEN


speaking with feral tongues

speaking with feral tongues


“earth my body
water my blood”


what songs are these
that scald our lips
and leave our tongues
hot sand and grit numb
in our mouths.

what songs are these
hissed in bellow anger
that drives us beating
beating palm to stretch skin
under a silence of cleared sky
where no sky had been seen

songs of stump and limb
and sever and ache.

and when the tears come
as come they will
when the anger that burned
is cooled by the rain.

when the tears come
and we sing the lament
of every tree that fell –
until there is no more
in us left to sing

who then will plant the trees –
who then will have breath enough
to sing the saplings to the sky.


what shifts in the mind of man
between seeing breathing
recognising beauty and
want lust greed – i must have it
own it
consume it.

did they arrive here southern
south coast of africa away
away – so far away
did they arrive here green jewel
mist morning glittering lakes and
trees and trees and trees,
stand a moment among a choir
of voices unheard and say
how great is our god of the sky
that he has made a world this beautiful –

or were they afraid
afraid of this thrumming wildness
this green and loud with birdsong world –
(tame it chain it own it)
did he open his eyes on this strange shore
and say mine mine all of it mine.

did we see no more
than a storehouse for plundering –
selling the wealth of the world
limb by limb on boats across the ocean.
selling our earth and our future.


“earth my body,
water my blood”


this forested here lived human inhabited
for ten thousand years before,
was farmed seasonal nomadic
pastoralist for good
three thousand of that
and still the trees stood,
the elephant roamed,
the antelope grazed
the forest edge in morning light

between the 1760 arrival
of first settlers from europe
to these deep forest slopes
and the forest protection act of 1940
the forest was decimated destroyed
logged to depletion
the elephant sport hunted
to functional extinction.
a world harvested like a cornfield
as if it took a season to grow.

and even that protection
was not enough
more timber more land
more people and towns and agriculture
more infrastructure
more habitat loss.

and who are we to sing this lament,
who am i daughter of the moon
daughter of the forest
daughter of a daughter
of a colonial bastard somewhere
who am i to sing this lament.

and i can say not in my name –
not in my name do you rape and burn and fell –
not in my name –
but here i am driving highway
town to town – fetching my daughter
daughter of the river forest
daughter of the moon.
fetching my daughter from school
built buildings mainroad mall mcdonalds
school where the forest stood
where the elephants sang
where others lived on quiet feet


there are remnants
bits of deep forest,
an elephant or two,
old trees that got away
one close by – an old giant
a living monument to what was
(and perhaps one day might be)
with boardwalks and information plaques
age height girth
she towers above the canopy and
i know she is she for the berries
she scatters in hope,
we go there sometimes
cross the ferned stream lean over the railing
to place our hands on that immense lichen moss trunk.
feel the seasons and years and centuries
move through her slowly
know we are in the presence
of all that is holy.


what songs are these
that scald our lips
and leave our tongues
hot sand and grit numb
in our mouths.

what songs are these
hissed in bellow anger
that drives us beating
beating palm to stretch skin
under a silence of cleared sky
where no sky had been seen

songs of stump and limb
and sever and ache.

and when the tears come
as come they will
when the anger that burned
is cooled by the rain.

when the tears come
and we sing the lament
of every tree that was felled –
until there is no more
in us left to sing

who then will plant the trees –
who then will have breath enough
to sing the saplings to the sky.


i sing a song of mothers
the song of mornings
the song of scars that heal
and seed banks held quiet
in waiting soil.
of mphephu and bitou
that cover bare earth
like a gauze like a bandage
like a shroud for the dead
to soothe protect cool the soil
grow the seeds –
the song of keurboom and halleria
budlleja and rhus –
pioneer trees that sprout and sapling
and weave a low canopy
where the old trees the slow trees
the timber giants can grow
slow in the light
in a forest of becoming
and becoming


“earth my body,
water my blood”

For Sherry at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: THE TONGUES OF FALLING TREES


morning walk : learning the snake dance

this morning, most mornings
first light, while the kettle warms
i take the short dew-walk
barefeet through the garden
up the drive to the goathouse
to open the door for the day,
release the two hens with
their twenty two chicks between them
let the goats out among the trees
scoop scraps around the bales
for the rabbits

after tea there will be feeding
and watering and attending
but for now – first light
this is enough.

some mornings
are more wild than others –
when i returned to the goathouse
an adder was resting
in the soft threshold sun
maybe the length of my arm
potent patterned beautiful
perhaps she had slept
the night among the bales.

puff adders are territorial
they choose a place and live there –
a goathouse is not a good home
for a puff adder –
too many goats
too many dogs
too many early mornings late nights
barefeet in the twilight –
too many patterns and
spaces among the bales.

we do not kill here,
we live alongside –
night adder and boomslang
and herald and more,
but puff adders are slow to move
quick to strike
and sometimes lethal.
she had to find another home.

gumbooted and elder-staffed
i watched her, peaceful
she slept a slow river
in the sun-warm dust.
watched she did not slip away
among the bales while
my daughter phoned the snake catcher
they have release permits
for puff adders in wild places.

slowly she became
aware of my presence –
tasted the air with her dark adder tongue
pulled her tail a little closer –
settled in the sun once more.

the snake catchers, all four of them,
were unavailable.

some mornings
are a little more wild than others
and some things need to be done
whether we want to do them or not

i watched, cautious as a cat
watched her scale ripple and silent
as she folded along a log,
rested her adder head
on her broad scaled back
and watched – time passed
while we watched each other
and i wished my tongue could speak her –
explain my actions
on this quiet morning in spring –
but the space between stretched
silent as skins pinned up to dry.

i meant her no harm,
but when my intention
shifted from watching to capture
she saw me for the danger i was
and darted towards the goathouse,
to shelter.

i intercepted
tried to lift her with the three pronged elder staff –
but she turned muscle coil and movement –
swimming light through the prongs.

and so our dance began –
her leading me following
slowly slowly moving her
from the goats who watched
slow chewing behind the fence –
she darting and hiding –
invisible among tree root and leaf litter –
quiet among the undergrowth –
watching and being watched
until eventually flicked into the open road
where i could half lift
half herd her into the plastic box
laid leaf littered and waiting –
tip it upright
click on the lid –
adrenaline surge laughter – done.

i would rather not capture
her patterned coiled beauty –
rather not move her away away
potent patterned coiled
but she lives too close to wild
to unspeak our mutual danger.

she is the wild silence
the dream-time dancer,
the old medicine
shedding life and death,
the watching and the watched
potent patterned coiled.

For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE.


sunday morning among the trees

birds are scattering song
from high branches this morning,
like berries for the faithful
it falls light and unanswerable,

falls trill and pulse and
wing purr melody,
falls sweet like
well-tongued prayers
on the lips of the holy.

it calls us to deer paths and mud paths
and roots among the moss paths,
calls us to the silent ways of fallen leaf –
calls us home on pilgrims feet.

Linking to Earthweal’s open link weekend #142


first words

a first song
a clapping game
on a father’s knee –
lindi-ann is no good
chop her up for fire wood
when she’s dead
we’ll bake her head
into ginger bread.-
words shape us
when our tongues
are still learning
to shape the world.

there were days in between
perhaps years, when nasturtium leaves
were tall shade on damp spring mornings
their parasols shining wordless
veining cathedral glass
against the blueness of sky
while our hands learned gesture
good bye –
learned here is the church
here is the steeple
open thumb doors
where are the people.

one potato two potato three potato four

when we moved from that place
from our suburban house across the road
from the school where my brother
went before me
where i used to listen for the bell
violet fingered high in the
branches of the mulberry tree singing
nameless ballads of me and now and leaf
between mouthfuls of mulberry
and muttered incantations to
branches out of reach

when we moved from
that yellow bagged purple jacarandered
house in the suburbs i tied
a burst blue balloon around the
smooth barked branch
of my friend the guava tree,
to remind me of the place
so that one day i might return
and see that blue balloon
and remember it was all true
the world that i had sung
was real.

i know

and there were years,
days, lives between
when words and poets
swallowed me jonah whole
only to be spat out again to
see the world anew
and i waited by that shore,
drew the sound the sea made
with my toes in the sand,
tried to build song birds
out of found bones and broken wings,
drank salt mist from cupped hands
and waited
hoping to meet that whale once more
and once more
and once more,

waiting is not living.
knee deep in the world
the words come to find us.
i know

but suppose, like now
when warmth of spring
has gathered grey cloud
after a mornings weeding and
tying taller by the hour tomatoes,
and the rain falls sudden and hard
and the heat and the smell of it
rises damp thirst quenched from the soil,
and these words, all the words
become a blue balloon
tied to a smooth bark branch
marking a place where
the world sang true.

For Joy Ann Jones at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: FIRST POEMS, DOOR TO THE WILDER EYE.


enacting prayer

enacting prayer

some days
our prayer
is a pot of butternut soup
thrown at the wall
saying no more
no more
no more

there is no sky this morning
drizzle mist has claimed the coast,
pooled in deep valleys and stretched
thin across the hills, ghosting
trees and goose flight.

loud with with birds in the cocooned mist
we unfold our elbows, cup warm tea,
loosen our skin to the morning.

i thought i loved her/e
before i came –
before i moved
daughters and mare,
table and benches to be her/e,
i thought i came here because
i (abstract)loved wanted
needed her/e –
but it turns out i came because
i needed to love her/e (act action actively) –
that the loving i needed to do was her/e –
that here is where i do my loving.

in spring, weeding among the greens –
garden billowing with sap growth
and humming with life – hands
burrowing among the stems
sorting chickweed and dandelion –
weeds that feed from knotweed
and hairy-stemmed unnamed tenacity
that will strangle tomatoes by summer

and i know i know among
all this awakening that adders too
have woken from winters
long sleep in hollows and caverns
and quiet, and in among the rummaging
and pulling and soil shaking

i mutter my prayers and
my thanks to the serpent gods
for being mindful of me
as i am of them,
to take care of my children
as i take care of theirs,
in spring, weeding
among the greens.

and what if the body
ails. what if blood like rivers
slows – laden microplastic,
algal bloom, bottles and bags
and silt sludge

what if the body ails ,
what if skin that has ached
for its own undoing
on moss bark mist mornings
is now un-doing –
swaddling in comfort
and the memory
of what was.

friday night, late before sleep –
rain thrumming the roof
and windows and leaves.
friday night late before sleep
a sunbird – day bird,
jewel of the morning bird
flutters moth against the window.
thumb-small with wings
and vulnerable to the night,
i ask her what she is doing
out past 11 in the rain –
why she waited so late
to seek shelter – she does not answer
i take her rebuke.

who am i to question someone seeking refuge
in a living of the world beyond my understanding.

out in the rain i stilled those panicked wings against the glass.
folded she sat quiet in one closed hand
while i made a nest of a mohair hat –
locked her safe in the wardrobe for the night.

morning here breaks first with birdsong,
then with light –
in the space between i unfold my hands,
gesture an open book, a please and a thank you,
and she darts grey winged
a forest prayer
to the wakening sky.

and what of the prayers
we do not speak –
do not voice or
shape with tongue and thought.
what of the hands
and knees soil prayers,
what of forehead
to the forest floor prayers,
what of the catch breath,
broken sky prayers
and touch of skin
that lingers lingers
what of blood prayers
and mud prayers
and the silence of stars prayers.
what of the earth prayers
that speak us
in our walking of the world.

and some days
our prayer is
help me,
i cannot walk this world
alone any more –
cannot walk it into being
on my own,
some days
our prayer is
help me.

For the Earthweal weekly challenge: ENACTIVISM AND THE POETRY OF BECOMING


black oystercatcher

inhabitant of a foggy coast
of shifting tide beginnings and ends undefined –
were you here that day long-legged
red beaked on the beach –
were you here that day the boats came
floating upturned whales
riding the waves we came
were you here.
were you here that day the world changed
tree by tree the world fell and changed
and you ran with the tide
briefly airborne
while a wave crash flooded the oyster beds
and then landed living again
were you here.
were you here that day the forest people left
no trace of their living
but some shell memories in a cave
and a hole in a fast imploding world.
did you watch as the wind
stole their footprints – erased their path
were you here, wet gusts tugging
at black feathers
when they left.
were you here the day the elephants came
grey fogged skin wrinkling out
the forest with the tide
they paused a moment
breathed whale-song on the beach
and then sighed into sea – gone.
did you shrill call their names
cry windblown for their loss
do you fly the mist breakers
still searching for their return –
were you here.
were you here the day they were born –
turtle carried they came
wave lullabied and brought to this shore.
were you here the day they came,
do you share this beach that breathes
at the edge of tomorrow
will you be here the day
they dance this world’s beginning
dancing full bright
on this edge of unknown.
the time is close oystercatcher
will you be here still
running with the tide.


For Sherry at Earthweals weekly challenge: WILD SOULS.


Since writing this in 2013 I am pleased to read that the population of the African Oystercatcher has stabilised and it it is no longer on the threatened species list.

burn this if you want to

i offer no illusion
last night the hen house was raided.
opened the door to a mess of
feathers and blood this morning,
all of them gone.

nothing of the spotted hen but her liver
licked clean on some star splashed quills.
the rooster dead and whole in the middle of it all,
too big to be carried into the night.

and what is to be done now
when there is no undoing
and blossoms still open
petal by petal
to the sun.

i offer no hope, i never could.
i never could be your shield
in the face of inevitability,
your deep pool
waiting for you to drown
in your own reflection.

i want to see us thrive,
but that is between me and
and the rich dark earth –
hands and knees
in the garden.

i offer no explanation
the moon rose.
the raspberries were good, tart,
early or perhaps really really late
either way there is no space in the sky anymore
for anything other than what always was
and always is. plastic bags have learned to swim like jellyfish,
riding ocean currents crammed thick and close
with plankton and krill and bottles and stuff.

i offer no religion
but the taste of rain
and pulsing forest
though you know
we turn to prayer
when the world is aflame
and the ocean starts to gnaw
at our cities, but who then
will be listening –
which sane god would choose
to love us now.

and of course we ran when the flames came close.
laid my hands on the soil of my home,
whispered stay safe while spring flower heads
towered and lolled in the unseasonable wind.
crammed child and goat and dog in our car
and fossil-fuelled our way to safety –
an ugly irony in this warming world.

i offer no excuse:
this is not a season we might remember,
but a landscape.
winter has washed through us,
left our bones clean to the wind

and yet spring rises – sap green and bursting,
birds are building nests in my hair.
when autumn comes,
the birds will fly
and i will be here

i offer nothing but this effigy.
gathered words and cloth bound with hair
and the grass rings woven while
the wild freesias bloom along the river

where sometimes fish as long as my arm
leap, slap the surface silver and
return to the depths i could never fathom –
even in summer, diving below,
ears taut and full with pressure
arms reaching beyond my breath
outstretched until there is nothing but sun-shafts, shadow-water
and eternity looking at this moment bathed in light.

i offer only this
burn it if you want to.

First published in Dark Mountain vol 15 – revised and reposted for Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: A LYRE FOR A CHANGING EARTH. Read his essay here https://earthweal.com/2022/10/03/lyre-for-a-changing-earth/



lying in my bed
listening for the sunrise
my feet stretch north
warming my toes on the equator.
right ear to the morning,
left to the setting sun,
my hair drifts southwards –
tidal swirlings on an infinite sea.

arms spreading east and west
form the coastal belt
outeniqua tstitsikama langeberg kouga
mountainous names that follow curves
peak in breasts with armpit valleys
and soft catchments where
elbows have folded in on themselves
for years.

these are long arms
that cling white knuckled
to the edge of africa,
strong arms that embrace.

this is warm earth, fertile plains
and the bones that sing my history.
from hand to hand an arc of sky
and the path of sun and moon
flooding me with light.

written june 2015

revised september 2022

For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: A MAP OF HISTORY’S MYSTERIES.

Read the essay here https://earthweal.com/2022/09/19/earthweal-weekly-challenge-historys-mysteries/