Photo by Tamarisk Glogauer

there is no sanctuary
but here, waiting
in the soft between
rib and hip
and small of back.

first light we walked the waters edge
amid the silence and the shuffling reeds
waiting for the dawn flight of egrets
hundreds of white wings
flying the seam between river and sky
like breath across the water.

we came here to this place
this steep catchment slope
in the rain shadow of this mountain.
and perhaps we wanted
green pristine light leaf through forest
and stream that flows forever clear and clean –
but we were not that

thick wattle infested
with snares hidden among
old growth forest in the ravine.
the skin of the hill crackled dry
and disturbed

fed the goats under a low rumbling sky
in the goathouse we built through the summer.
found and old door with a porthole,
wooden walls, sod roof.
inside all is quite but the steady chew of cud
and the sibilant sighs of new rain in the roof grass.

these are our holy of holies
the prayers that shape us
and the living between.

we cleared the wattle.
finding forest trees and old scars.
had bonfires to the aching moon
burning the root stumps
sending sparks into the clear night sky –
we learned who lived here –
sometimes by bloody encounter in the henhouse –
sometimes by quiet recognition of other
while the mpephu grew waist high
and the seedbank dreamed a forest into being

how many years in the vegetable garden
last light, until trogon showed up
perched silent incandescent
on the fence post –
watching the scrape of hand furrows,
planting of seeds
in soil black soft now with time.

in the counting
of these numbered days
when waves no longer hiss on the shore
but counts its toll in available beds
and percentages of patients recovered
nine eggs from the hen house this morning
are solid smooth sanctuary in my hand.

we planted in the name of the goddess
and sought blessing of the gods
we never knew,
and we grew.

by the time trees new planted
were casting shade
the girls were naming their own gods
singing their songs to the soft growing earth
and my father had died here
his ashes becoming the land

and the years turned
and turned again
and the rhythms of seasons settled.
a wood owl landed with claw scratch
on the steep pitch roof of the house
to sit the night in deep song,
slowly slowly
hill becomes forest becomes sanctuary
we took time
we take time
to heal.

high summer i had gone
to the steep slope forest again –
to the tree at the centre of the centre
given myself to that yielding
forest floor, slept sun-dappled and adrift
amongst the curve of root and crunch of leaf
until my skin was no more
no beginning no end.
kingfisher called me from sleep
called low branched loud
just beyond my reach
called until breath by breath
i took form once more
found feet
and walked the world anew.

there is no temple
but here, waiting
in the soft between
rib and hip
and small of back.

this is our holy of holies
the earth prayer that shapes us
and the space that lives between.

Posted in response to Earthweal’s Weekly Challenge: Sanctuary

19 thoughts on “sanctum

  1. Sigh. I loved reading this, with all of its beautiful images and the long history of your place. How fortunate to have such a stable place through the years. A magical place, full of stories and memory.


  2. Wow. What a stunning hymn of praise to the land upon which you live. I love the way you describe yourself as becoming part of the land. This is a truly inspiring read.


  3. I agree with the chorus on this sanctuary shared by eye and heart and mind of place. Its halcyon is woven of daily truths, aches with the burden of both joy and loss and sublimely locates sanctuary where “there is no temple / but here, waiting / in the soft between / rib and hip / and small of back.” The mortal frame which is ever with us and is the carriage by which we protect and border and greet the world. An essential element of sanctuary as i see it now is also duration, self melded into landscape through daily repeated loving attention, and that is lavish here. Amen.


    1. Thank you Brendan. Your father”s story(and yours) of long relationship with land and spiritual questing is truly inspirational. Thank you for sharing.


  4. This is so beautiful! I love how you visit each sanctuary space as an ‘episode’ then bring the whole poem round full circle. My favourite lines:

    ‘slowly slowly
    hill becomes forest becomes sanctuary
    we took time
    we take time
    to heal.’

    So we do, so we do, but we do.

    Liked by 1 person

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