orientation

orientation

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/

epigraph

there is a cottage
at the edge
of the woods
in it lives a woman
a woman a woman,
more.
it lives in women
the cottage
at the edge
of the woods.

the herbs that hang from the rafters
bunches of mpephu and nettle
and tulsi, the roses that grow
a blood thorned tangle
swoon sweet and
spread on october cloths to dry,
the bottled elder turned
by the light of the moon.
it lives
lives in women

in the sun amongst the trees
held in the crescent arms of forest
is a garden – a sun bowl facing north.
in that garden we grow the food
mulch the soil, say the prayers.
in that garden we grow the food
in soil dark like the night –
the greens soft and fire
and crunch to nourish,
picked bowlsful and
fresh in the evening –
the plums full heavy
with the turning of years.

and of course we have danced here
(like really here – see this circle
where these four paths meet?)
barefeet slapping silk-mud
while she rose and rose in the sky

and of course we have wept here
salt tears for a thirsty earth
the empty rooms, the quiet deaths.
hit hard spades at a sun-scorched earth
learned again and again
that there is no unsaying these prayers
no holding onto anything
when you give yourself to it
completely

and of course we have laughed here
table slapping guffaws
clanging amongst the cutlery
with the light
and the light streaming in.

and of course we have planted trees here.
for our dead, for our living
for our food, for our prayers
their roots now entangling
with what was
what was.
their branches singing
songs of the sacred to the sky.

and of course we know
we are borrowed earth
that this body too will fade
like those before and those before
that we only become whole by healing
that by remembering the forest
as holy holy
we remember ourselves
wholly.

there is a cottage
at the edge
of the woods
in it lives a woman
a woman a woman,
more.
it lives in women
the cottage
at the edge
of the woods.


For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: A MAP OF HISTORY’S MYSTERIES. Read his wonderful essay here. https://earthweal.com/2022/09/19/earthweal-weekly-challenge-historys-mysteries/

because all conversations are easy when the world cannot speak

i said

shall we start with the river –
everything always starts with the river
and ends with the sea
except life itself and jellyfish
and our mother the ocean

and whales
.

i said

egrets this morning
flying low/near invisible
along the estuary
taking form from the water
wing tips almost touching
the slate and grey and cold of river
lifting silent now above the trees
carrying the day
on their lightness of wings

i said he said

when he went there
the birds did not sing
did not – have not
did they ever sing?
that the land there
speaks now only in
human forms
speaks carved stone
and castle and road
and perhaps being there is
a forgetting to listen
but perhaps the land there is
silenced
its pebble tongue carved useless
to the glory of men.

but who will wake us
call arise arise
to meet the world anew
who will wake us
if the birds
no longer
sing

i said

now that spring has come
and sunbirds sit on patient nests,
the men arrive to cut back
roadside trees, make way
for scrapers and diggers and trucks
too close too close for comfort or
for nesting birds and new dropped bushbuck
hiding silent in tangled undergrowth.

and of course i know
the clearing is needed
and i know that not yet
not yet can the forest reclaim these roads
cover the criss cross scar story of our living
reckless and beyond reason, punch drunk
on our god given dominion

but oh lord and god help us
my animal skin crawls,
aches with the falling of trees,
looks to hide in the cool shadows –
away from the deathspeak of chainsaws
on a bright spring day.

i said

beyond the dappling tree light
fish eagle speaks the sky whole –
earthbound mudcreature
craning my neck to the sun –
knowing that vastness could never
would never be mine
(birdbrained sky chicken –
my deafness renders you mute.)
i said

its curious now
that our first letter
our first written record
of the shape and gesture
of the human mouth
aleph alef alif alap

it is curious that
our first ever letter – aleph
in mordern arabic means tamed
or familiar. like the head of an ox
known and owned. tamed.
that our written words
no longer taste of longing
and belonging – of gutteral clawed
animal speak
that shaped words
out of mud
and bird
and bone –
and in the taming
of our language
we are tamed.
in the denying of our wildness
we deny the wild world,
become deaf to all language but our own
speak abstracts and contracts
until the undoing of the world.

i said

so here i am
ocean’s edge
(where i said
things should end)
white woman
shaking fragile
fists to the sky
fluttering tongue
against the palate
like a bird against the glass –
throwing words like stones
against the waves
“damn you ocean
if you think you can rise
against us –
god’s image
i was made in god’s own image –
(or my husband was
but that is another story)
godly – we were given
dominion, ocean.
how dare you rise against us?”

and then the sobbing anger
for what am i
if i am not the ocean

if i am alone

and the ocean pools
in the belly of my being
and the tides of my living
rise and fall – and if way back
i flowed amniotic
in the ocean of my beginning
then why, oh why
do i rise against me.

i have said too much

speak.

(please)


For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: AN AN ATMOSPHERIC RIVER ROARS AT US. Reading his thought provoking essay here – https://earthweal.com/2022/09/05/an-atmospheric-river-roars-at-us/

temple

between closing the gate
on new planted beds
late evening – winter cold,
and heading inside
to close up the house,
snap kindling, light a fire.

between tree silhouettes
and golding sky
the way opens
into forest –

and who knew who knows
the paths taken the limbs touched
skin to bark- who knows the trunks
leaned on in the quiet.
who but the bird watched
shadows among shadows
among trees.

until here,
paused – sitting boulder still
on granite forest bones growing roots and moss –
claimed and owned by fallen leaves,
we breathe for centuries as one.

(and sometimes surfacing from silence
i wished i came her more often –
came on gentler feet
not garden boots caked with mud
here to the temple door –

but dust is dust and the temple floor
waits for our feet – soft with longing and prayer
and in that aching stillness
i slip into silence once more)

and who knew who knows
the paths taken the limbs touched
skin to bark- who knows the trunks
leaned on in the quiet.
who but the bird watched
shadows among shadows
among trees.
and who knew who knows
what it is to be here
alone.

perhaps it is the cold that calls to form –
air tinged with night bracing deep breaths –
finding shape from boulder and root,
shedding leaf and scale and feather
until unfolding limbs
hold us human once more.

hands deep in pockets
following the path up through thinning trees –
foot stamping dirt on the wooden step
i head inside. light the fire –
hold cold hands to the warmth of flame,
watch the sky fade through the windows.
late evening still.


For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: WILD STILLNESS

https://earthweal.com/2022/07/04/earthweal-weekly-challenge-wild-stillness/

small comfort

so long so long
since i have been here
dipping into this icy lake

uncoloured morning
slippered and blanket wrapped
for the cold cold
that sits at the base of the spine

where the donkey was nail beat years ago
on a red dust road in the sun
make-shift harnessed to a scrap cart
going nowhere

same low curve back where the needles
were inserted three times epidural
to numb to numb the cutting births
with their spilling and stitching
three girls three girls and joy

wrap wrap in blankets
shorn from the goats long locks
falling warm from the slow breathing flanks
new hair bright white in the shade.
washed and combed fibres aligned
ready to spin fine and steady
by winter fires

dyed in skeins with baths of leaves
moonflower and henna
and fragrant persicaria
until greens and golds
double dipped in indigo
it dries in the sun while goats sleep
and dream their green season babies.

until quiet quiet on long journeys
keeping an eye on slow mountains
the mohair is stitched
square by square
into this blanket that years later

wraps, warms the cold of my back
while the sun fills the sky on
still mornings approaching the solstice.


Linking to Earthweal’s open link weekend #122

https://earthweal.com/2022/06/10/earthweal-open-link-weekend-122/

the mountain

we walk amongst the bones here.

early rain has sprouted green
along the path and buds drink swell wait
to burst drunkenly into bloom

human calcaneous and soft ball joints
find footing on jutting mountain bones –
sandstone knees and elbows –
scapular, like a blade,
like a contour, like a cliff,
granite sternum and ribs
to protect the heart
beating still –

hips that curve and curve around
walking us home
on old paths
of bone.


For Sherry at earthweal’s weekly challenge: DREAMING IN GREEN

https://earthweal.com/2022/06/06/earthweal-weekly-challenge-dreaming-in-green/

staring down the sun

Photo by Tamarisk-Ray Glogauer – Wilderness, South Africa.

there is futility in this bearing witness to no one,
bearing witness for who but ourselves
bearing witness for who might come after
when clearly our doomsday prayers
sing the end
the end – no who in sight
no after.

there is an inevitability
in this thin rhetoric,
a confidence in our march
through the end of time
a stark martyrdom –
for the greater good we say
of a planet, our planet
will be better off without us.

(“earth my body, rivers my blood”
tell my heart that i live on a planet
space rock – third from the sun,
that my body is a temple
when the temple is my body
when all the earth is wholly holy holy)

and some of us
have been building boats for sure
waiting for the waters to rise
waiting for our promised 40 days –
stocking up on canned beans
and coconut oil. learning
to spark the flint,
cradle the kindling,
blow breathe blow,
nurture enough fire to live by
(because the end of course
is not for everybody)

but the ark –
the ark itself gives me sleepless
nights pacing the cubits,
bare feet on new wood –
what beauty is worthy of salvation here –
who gets to come on board
two by two – not all
not all lest our salvation
become our sinking ship.
there are too many of us any way.
not you and me – just us – humans you know.

(“earth my body, water my blood”
air my breath, fire my spirit”
how we have burned and burned
looking for the fire
when the fire burns within –
sacred fire in the holy temple
holy holy holy)

carrot seeds and heirloom peppers
are a no brainer for sure –
but what of the useless,
the frivolous the pretty
do we store zinnia and lobelia,
and cosmos on the ark –
do we need them
and which beasts will come
two by two
the spotted and striped
feathered and clawed
the edible
and what of sperm whales
and sperm counts falling
like trees in the forest
what if our ark is barren–
what if it never rains
what if our end is drought.
what if the end is fire
what if we do not know the end
how do we, the righteous prepare,
build a fireproof flotilla
to navigate unknowable oceans.
some nature in the hold,
along with the beans
and our petty fears
and comforts enough
to end a world with –
bearing witness until,
last bean in the can
hot fried by an over zealous sun,
we can no more.

(“earth, my body,
water, my blood,
air, my breath
fire, my spirit”
we live we die we live
holy holy holy)

what if we don’t know how it ends.
or if.
how do we live
if it doesn’t.


For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: WITNESS TO MAGNITUDE

https://earthweal.com/2022/05/09/earthweal-weekly-challenge-witness-to-a-magnitude/

here

i slept here once
in the contour folds of forest
curved among the trees –
the sideways sleep
of long days silence.

i dreamed here too
dreamed their voices
like rasp grass in autumn wind
pushing up through the valley.
i dreamed her here –
grass crowned like a bird
like a queen
like tuft grass that golds
in late light.
and the voices were wind
and river and sky
and water falling rock to pebble-bed,
voices like long arched seed heads
that gather autumn dew –
singing gravel voices rippling
along my skin.

i woke here once
from the forest deep sleep
from the forgetting
and remembering and forgetting –
was called from sleep
by name in the forest –
again and again
until like slow return
to surface in summer’s river
a slow rise to where
the silver bubbles break
i rose from that sleep
without moving at all –

i woke in this forest
to a low-branched kingfisher
almost head height
on the down slope
calling and calling me
awake.

for Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge SPIRITS OF PLACE

https://earthweal.com/2022/05/02/earthweal-weekly-challenge-spirits-of-place-2/

may song

still now,
with mornings
speaking in dragon breath
and prophetic tongues
of shortening days
and the cold that comes
that comes –
still now
the birds proclaim the day,
call clear blue
horizon to horizon
while singing autumn songs,
gorging themselves
on fruit full ripe and
sweet with sunlight gathered
and grown to seed.


the commons: air, water, habitable earth

“take back, like the night,
that which is shared,”
like the cool become cold
under a scattering of wild stars.
like our breath , held
against the now
that explodes on our screens
stealing light from our days
and stars from our night
until no more –
say no more
no more
throw open our windows
our doors – step outside
allow the night cool
to pry breath
like a sigh, like a howl
like a bird from our lips –
watch it take flight
mist swirl breaths in the night
swimming among the stars
becoming air
becoming ours
becoming shared.

“take back, like the night,
that which is shared,”
like a thirst, like a longing,
like the river. like soft lips
touching water reflecting fur
and eyes and hooves
and quiver flesh hide –
still. more still than
we have names for
like a sip, like a thirst
like a longing –
like the tree whose branches
flow river catchment from the sky,
like our bodies
holy water
wholly shared

“take back, like the night,
that which is shared,”
like soil in our palm
holding seedling green tendril
like a gift, soft
like a home built slowly
like a tree being
both shelter and sheltered
like the earth
that grows our bones
that become the earth
shared.


Quotation from Gary Snyder in The Practice of the Wild.

In response to Brendan at earthweal’s and weekly challenge: THE COMMONS.

Find his excellent essay here.

https://earthweal.com/2022/04/25/earthweal-weekly-challenge-the-commons/