not here: travels in the otherworld

drove to the city and back
six hours each way
returning the art student
to the university she evacuated
for fire four weeks ago –
some buildings still charred stone exterior,
roadside trees holding helpless charcoal hands to the sky
on the slopes of the mountain that runs black seams
up into the high gorges
where nothing but eagle and rock hyrax nest.

i slept the night on a riverbank
deep within its leafy suburban heart,
the treeline hiding a seething multitude of sins
but all i could see from my window
was the mountain peak
fading into the crescent moon sky.
i slept dreamless in that place
the endless drone of city and aircon
and push of river at its concrete banks
speaking a voiceless dirge to the night.

and slow the day came
warming leaves fallen
damp on the path.

we shared a makeshift breakfast
of the previous day’s travel food
fresh season naartjies
and cream cheese from home
on the old stone steps of the university
near the room where she stays.
pied crows drawing slow circles overhead
threading red roofs and stone buildings
to blue sky and burned trees.
the day stretched ahead
full with the sadness of parting.

this is the city that bore me
raised me through its seasons and shadows,
though truth be told it is another world to me now
bigger brighter more
its shacks and shanty towns bigger and bigger
strung spider web with electric cables overhead
its relentless gated villas and estates and malls
marching off to other mountains
swallowing kilometres and kilometres
in its suburban daydream.
its five lane highways their own special purgatory.

an hour away i climbed those distant mountains
looking back at the city
like a jeweled illusion in morning light –
endless suburbs bathed in soft mist and factory belch,
the bays and small harbours postcard blue
under the flawless sky.

steep driving down the other side
the road unravels horizon to horizon
through hills and crop-lands
playing pastoral painting –
dams and ponds brim full of first rain
reflecting the cloud skud sky

(and perhaps and maybe
as the fields speed past
and for a moment,
like in summer
when cupped hands to the surface
you look through the reflection
to the world of waterweed beneath,
the fawn stands green clearing
on the edge where the the old tree
reaches over the stone pile
and something twangs
in the place where knowing lives
and a doorway swings
open and shut
and the road draws me
on and on)

and all the while
the distance between
stretches
until my heart pulled taut
is played like a drum –
a four beat repeat
like a calling
like an approaching

and finally end of day
rounding the pass that opens rockface
to stretch of ocean and estuary and forest
and all the voices that speak me
i retrieve the skin
i left at the shore.

For Eathweal’s weekly challenge: Voyage to the Otherworld

https://earthweal.com/2021/05/17/earthweal-weekly-challenge-voyage-to-the-otherworld/

13 thoughts on “not here: travels in the otherworld

  1. When you share the pen with Otherworld, who knows what gets written on the page. This amble between worlds — from a sacred to the profane and back — takes in a lot of suburban waste (that stuff is everywhere nowadays) yet still finds little portals in ruins and the sound of the river at night: But what a joy to come home — and an utter surprise to see that selkie skin gathered shiny in moonlight. It reverses the traditional reversal, making the tale doubly nourishing. Amen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How I relate to this poem’s journey. I LOVE the closing stanzas and the reclaiming of the wild skin. I do thinbk our suburban daydream has gotten away on us and is turning the landscape into something more like a bad dream. Unstoppable, apparently. Fine writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sherry. And yes there is a bit of a dystopian nightmare feel to the endless sprawl and the lives behind walls. And yet the mountains still stand – beautiful and hopefully untouchable.

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  3. I enjoyed your journey to otherworlds both shockingly modern and inescapably ancient. It seems like we are at a crossroads, where we have to make the choice to either stop devouring the natural world, or give up on it altogether.

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  4. Beautifully written Lindi, the place where art is studied seems so far from the natural landscape that nurtures an artist’s soul. What a blessing you could return to the voices that speak to you and retrieve the skin you left at the shore 💚

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    1. Thank you. For now, it seems, we gather the best and worst of ourselves in the cities. Both the University of Cape Town and Cape Town itself are still incredibly beautiful, but I am definitely more at home here than I ever was in the city.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Such different landscapes and views against the same sky, Lindi, beginning with the haunting juxtaposition of ‘buildings still charred stone exterior’ and ‘roadside trees holding helpless charcoal hands to the sky’ in a place where ‘nothing but eagle and rock hyrax nest’. The city is never far, even when all that can be seen is a ‘mountain peak fading into the crescent moon sky’. Just climbing the mountains gives a view of the city ‘like a jewelled illusion in morning light’. The conversational direct address gives me the feeling that I’m there with you, sharing a makeshift breakfast on the old stone steps of the university, where the wilderness and pied crows are not so far away. I love the lines:
    ‘…something twangs
    in the place where knowing lives
    and a doorway swings
    open and shut
    and the road draws me
    on and on’.

    Liked by 1 person

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