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

acts of resistance


1.
arms wide we lift
our faces to the rain
laughing at the sky
as it soaks us.

2.
low sun
across the forest hill
has stalked between the trees
to find me here
mosquito swatting
hip deep and golden in coriander
snapping the bristle stalks
of marrows as thick as my arm.
sticky as summer

3.
there are worlds layered
between the stars and
where i stand
waiting for night to claim me.

4.
in over 800 years
this tree
has never once
stopped being a tree.
even on sundays when
the sky breaks
against the mountains and we
gasping at the chest rumbling
wonder of smiting gods
lay our thankful hands
on her crag moss trunk.
even then,
with her crown
to the cracked sky
our shining faces alive
with falling rain,
unwavering
she whispers,
tree.

5.
some days all that is asked of you
is to lie amongst the arching grass stalks.
to be here on the hillside.
to breathe.

6.
it was easier
to lift
francesca the goat
full pregnant
and playing
sack of potatoes
onto the shearing platform
to trim her wondrous curls
before the birth
than it was to delete an ap
on my, trying to be smarter
than i, phone.
though truth be told
goats are smellier
than instagram.

7.
it is not a metaphor
rain really does fall.

8.
there is time still
in this world
for love to breathe us,
take us up giddy
in exuberant inhalation,
break us like the morning
with a sudden flooding
of light.

The 850 year old Woodville Big tree Photo by Tamarisk-Ray Glogauer – January 2018

For Sherry at the Earthweal weekly challenge: Love songs to Mother Earth.

visionary habits

1
it is not like
god could wait
while we
wove cloth
of hope and flax,
a seasons growing
to make the
warp and weft
of prayer.

2
thirteen ravens
flew the sky,
i don’t remember
why i counted.

3
there was no predicting
the turning of the wheel
yet i held the lucky number
sticky in church fair hand
waving it wildly
waist high to the crowd
waiting to claim my prize.

4
i cut the cloth
to fit the bed
that i intend
to lie in.
actually – i ripped it.
measured folded
measured again
small snip, then
rip.
not the screech
of ripping cotton
but a soft linen purr.
somewhere in this cloth
blue flowers sighed
and caught the sun.

5
eight swallows
sun bright
on the wire
speak of counting
the cooling weeks.

6
i tasted oak
in this morning’s mushroom
picked roadside on my
travels and grilled.
i tasted oak and quiet roots
and the weaving of unseen threads
tying me to the land.
you eat me
and i eat you,
said the tree.

7
some days
a black dog
long way from dream
walks idly along the road
and i forget to breathe
while the hairs on my arms
rise.

8
more white
than evening has eyes for
the wings of the egret
for a moment after landing
remain open, holding air
while her feet remember
her body is earth.

9
i saw the city
like a bubble once
dazzling, evening light
reflecting from every glass
and steel surface.
stretched iridescent
around nothing at all,
an illusion of solidity.
transient.

10

late light
cuts deep shadows
through the fat translucence
of vygie leaves,
revealing the sour figs
we knew we would find
opaque with ripeness
and seed.

11

let these deeds
the walking of this prayer
become habit,
prayer shawl
and rosary.
let it be reminder
on the days
that we forget.

12
we threw the
bones before
we came here,
cast the stones,
gave of our blood
to hear the voice
of the oracle ,
all of us.
we knew this
would happen,
all of it.
and yet

even through
the dry years
our bodies ache
for the memory
of rain.

13
now these grasses
go to seed
arced in an
ecstasy
of evening light.


Reposted for Earthweal  open link weekend #23

what comes comes

in these times
of rapid change
and covid-19,
with the youngest
doing zoom for school,
the lack of daily commute
has yielded quiet mornings
waking late to winter light
softing the forest into focus.

this morning came cresting the hill
hot pink between black branches –
we went to find the sun,
my daughter and i
walking the silence of the ridge road
our home nestles below,
looking out over the north valley
already spilled with the light of day
hurtling towards us

there is no measuring
the infinity of this cusp moment
on the ridge between,
no knowing how long this light has lived
or how much time there is to come,
there never was.

tomorrow has become a matter of faith
we plant the garden
banking on the weeks it takes a radish
from seed to globe pulled bright purple
and white from dark loam,
the season it takes from sprout
to a bounty of peas
in a bowl on the lap for shelling,
trusting the tamarillo planted today
will have time to fulfil its promise
of fruit in the second year,

believing in the sapling
thigh deep hole
backfilled with compost and topsoil –
root ball undisturbed
soft pressed and settled
watered bucket by bucket
until the rain came
all the while saying its name
podocarpus falcatus
over and over
like a mantra, like a prayer
like a hymn to the making –
accepting as truth the limbs that will grow
the birds that will feast and nest,
the dropping leaves through centuries
building soil
building forests
from the undergrowth

tomorrow is a matter of faith
and what can we plant
but our vision of what could be
and our longing to live
to see the sun rise
on a world turned around
at death’s door.

WhatsApp Image 2020-06-02 at 09.46.26
Sunrise over Wilderness. Photo by Brian Musto

In response to the Earthweal weekly challenge: What comes next

priceless

it is a tall order
to write all that is wrong
when the sun rises
on a world that is perfect

this morning, a delicious stillness
after the nights storming rain,
cold and blue the sky aches clear
while i walk the garden
check on goats and gates,
no trees down, contour ponds full
and rain canals running clear
after yesterday’s blustery cleanup
in hopeful anticipation.

on the hilled horizon
clouds billow salmon soft and full
catching light
i breathe vapour breath into
cold hands desperate for tea

inside i fill the kettle
set it on the stove
light a fire in the hearth,
through the front windows
a double rainbow has spanned the forest hills
ahead of more rain to come.

some days it is enough
to bare witness to this beauty
and some days it is enough
to just bare witness –
to not look away.

but the death toll rises
despite black birds bright in the morning trees
and we are not just counting humans,
rivers, trees, insects –
entire ecosystems in collapse.
places we know and love
irretrievably changed in our lifetime alone

and still we hesitate in accepting,
lockdown, isolation, ventilator,
that this virus
is just one symptom
of an ailing planet –
that all of this is
just one thing.

the bushfires, the starving
the inequality, the waste
the killing, the hoarding
the food deserts, the flooding
the salinification of our soils
the die offs, the die backs
the commodification of all that is living
the spills, the meltdowns and drifts
the beaching, the drowning
in oceans of plastic waste.

the list goes on and on
all of it symptomatic
of a flawed understanding
of our animal being
and what it means to belong
to be a part of
and not apart

chair pulled to the fire
i wrap cold fingers around warm tea
as fresh rain alive with sky
taps on the panes

it is no small task
to right what remains
if, strength of mountains,
the living world prevails.


Responding to Earthweal’s weekly challenge – protest in a time of pandemic.

https://earthweal.com/2020/05/25/earthweal-weekly-challenge-protest-in-a-time-of-pandemic/

mitigating

1.
this morning, gumboots on
because the dew grass
will soak my socks in sturdy shoes
long before i reach the gate,
even if i don’t slow to see the garden
strung and jeweled
with spider silk and night cool.

to the south, beyond the hills
the ocean gasps and sighs against cliffs,
washes the beach of whelk scrawl
i will never get to read.

the black horse waits at the gate as he does.
he has slipped his field again
found foot hold through the forested valley
on a trail made by feet much smaller than his.
i have tracked him by daylight to see where he walks –
ducking below branches, stepping around trunks,
following contour paths along the steep valley
to come out on the ridge beyond my mother’s house
leaving hoof prints in the soft dirt road.

there is something mythic about it all
the black horse walking the night forest
while the sleepers sleep,
but on waking its meaning eludes me
and the horse at the gate
is warm grass breath and patience –
messenger of the gods he may well be,
but the horsemen of the apocalypse
are riding far more brazen steeds.

2.
my left foot slides along the seam of granite
finding its way below the smooth flow surface of the water
right foot stepping rock to rock above the surface
hands grapple grip the crossing,
the water dark and waiting
gasp cold pulling to the sea.

the ravine walls here are deep with millennia
pocketed by sand floored caves
holding imprints of animals
and others who visit in silence
chewing on air thick and delicious with the sacred –
bones humming hallelujah for the earth that lives.

whether it was human or otter
that cracked the crab
on the slab of rock river’s edge,
consumed the flesh while searching the sky
that lives a few hours in sunlight
between the tall cliff walls
is no matter to the river.
both could fall,
crack their animal bones
be consumed by the crabs
and the river.

3.
in dreams
in the city
the apocalypse had always been
the empty streets.
no-one.
only my car
casting its small shadow
on the morning road
R44 to N2 towards the mountains,
driving away away
as far as the fuel in my tank would take me
waking up without managing to leave

4.
so we ate naartjies along the way
facing the deep pool water
and the vine trailed cliffs up river.
you from your bag and i from mine
because for now we know nothing
about living this pandemic
and when social distancing
is distance enough
or how not to share the virus
when sharing our food
or whether we die
for lack of touch.

5.
somedays the news
reads like a dystopian fiction
about a future or planet not ours.
images and words clothed and fleshed
not by the living
but by an idea of the world
that we can cope with.
a shudder story of the world
that we can still fall asleep to.

6.
in the garden
winter seeds unfurl
oblivious,
pea tendrils reach
for the light

7.
the middens are deep
on the floor of these caves
a history that speaks shell and shard
carried for generations on this path
between ocean and here
skin sack of oysters
perhaps some roots.
which day was the last
they walked this path.
did they know by then
their world had ended.

8.
in the house is a silence
deeper than black water river pools
beneath moss hewn cliffs.
a spider on silk outside the window
crosses tree to tree
casting a scritting shadow
across my page.
the day slides back into existence
somewhere a rooster crows
and fly on the pane
cleans a lazy antennae
takes flight.
this is real
all of it
(we are still here)


In response to the weekly prompt Vast Particulars at Eathweal.

https://earthweal.com/2020/05/18/earthweal-weekly-challenge-vast-particulars/