the body remembers

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

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.

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
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.

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.

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.

but the elephant we hoped to see –
aah the knysna elephant
biggest of the forest dwellers
were not as lucky
as the loerie.

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
remembers gill and claw
and tree branch firm underfoot
remembers who we are
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


17 thoughts on “the body remembers

  1. In AA they say “your story is your sobriety” – meaning, to tell one’s history is to understand one’s mystery and how it undergirds the meanings by which we live. This life-story remembers the animals we have always been and the sapiens constructions of independence which provide a comfortable and lonely separateness. There is the life of place here and the grief of loss, but always “the body remembers” and its memory is life. And we must be the memory of the knysna loerie and elephant, their vividness and girth become empty spaces in the wood. Amen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a long sad glory of a poem – the thundering hooves, the wingspread of the loerie finally seen, the body remembering what our minds forget………a wonderful read and I love that you close it as you began, bringing us full circle. So glad to read this poem this morning.


  3. Mmm what a gift 🙂 I am glad I get to stay connected to you through words over such a great expanse of earth. What glorious words they are, albeit sometimes touching on matters that tug on the heart strings. Much love Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Frankie. We so miss having you here and truly hope our paths will cross again soon(and you know our door is always open) Hope you are well. And thanks for reading. So much love to you too xx


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