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
1. 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,
2. 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 here. because we were here – planetary 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
3. there are only two northern white rhinos left and both are female their reproductive capacity obsolete.
4. 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 important
and in our thinking there came to be a hole a little bit of space for the seed of our own obsolescence
5. 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?
6. 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 before.
7. our forgetting came like a dark cloud across our world first in story then in deed and in our forgetting we became forgotten – longing knowing our unknowing in our bones’ an infinitely insatiable hunger that wants more more more wants until we have destroyed that which we were – and become and become obsolete
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
8. 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.
9. 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
10. 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 aflame.
11. remember embody become
For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: EXTINCTION TALES
1. 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
2. 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. powerless
3. 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 maybe 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. but the elephant we hoped to see – aah the knysna elephant biggest of the forest dwellers were not as lucky as the loerie.
7. 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 is remembers gill and claw and tree branch firm underfoot remembers who we are were 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
1. 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 live
2. 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 depth and depth and depth enough to slake our desire quench our thirst.
3. 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.
4. 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
5. 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
1. 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
2. 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.
3. 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
4. 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.
5. 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 unknowing.
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.
6. 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.
7. 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 wanted.
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 swipe
8. 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. wait 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
down beyond where the slope drops deep into valley where the trees live beyond time and each breath becomes a prayer to our unspoken gods there, moss cushioned, will i wait for you
down in the dark of the water deep 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 wait for you
unyielding in the light between deep among the trees that sway slow between our worlds there where the surface scatter light of dark water become stars of your night sky, there will you wait for me.
For Brendan at earthweal’s weekly challenge: THE NATURE OF ENCHANTMENT
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
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. the house is a little empty with all the comings and goings we have rearranged the furniture made more space to dance the return.
5. 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.
6. 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 timely unfolding.
7. is it too late paper crane to learn that sometimes we fly by unbecoming what we thought we were.
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.
Re-visiting an older poem for Sherry at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: SAY THE NAMES