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.
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
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
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
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.
“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.
1. in shades of green and grey the ocean spoke the coming storm while breakers tossed ice-whisps against the tide.
double socked and braced to the wind we face that cloud stacked horizon and give thanks for the rain the rain the rain that comes and those who return with the snap cold turn of seasons.
2. by 1750 the north atlantic right whale was as good as extinct for commercial purposes – because they were the right whale to kill. slow and placid, rich in oil likely to float after death. they were the right whales to kill until they were gone and whalers looked to the rich southern waters where generations of mothers had returned and returned to quiet bays.
the southern right whales, it seems were equally fit for purpose. 38 000 harpooned in the southern atlantic 39 000 in the south pacific an incomplete record gathered from far flung whaling stations and the silence of the sea.
too late too late for the north harpooning of right whales was banned in 1937 though illegal whaling continued for few decades more.
3. i never saw a whale as a child never felt their breath in and out like the ocean beneath me until i was older adult and sitting half way down the rock strewn cliff among the erica and watsonia watching mother and child roll and roll in the swell of the deep water bay – close close enough to see eyes and spray catching light with that vast exhale sigh that rumbles rock and bone and all the watery spaces of my being – slow slower than any breath i could dream or hope or imagine
i never saw a whale as a child because there were so few. because they were the right whale. because healing takes time. because we did not know how to hope for their return. what action hope needed for their return
4. about 13000 southern right whales now and counting. population growth steady (we hope) at about 6% per year.
this is the slow crawl back from the brink – the precarious tiptoeing at the edge of existence. this is the quiet hope of winter this is the prayer at the shore.
that despite it all the changes and the changing that the mothers return as their mothers before, full pregnant and nourished by bright antarctic waters. that they calve here safe near the shore – that our daughters and daughters know the wide waters the rocky bays the salt ocean breath.
For Brendan at earthweal’s weekly challenge: RADICAL HOPE
it is hard to see in the darkness of these days, morning sun bright shadowed on heather and grass thick dewed. it is hard to see.
it is hard to remember who spewed what hate at which fractured piece of humanity first – who threatened, divided, ate power made of discord.
it is a dark shore these morning waves break on. it is hard to see
but knee deep in the pushing tide at the edge of our unknowing we take this holy water wash unseeing from our eyes taste the ocean salt of our bodies and turn again to face the shore turn to see the horizon cleave darkness from the sky, become mountain and hill and home, a murmuration of hope alive in our bones.
A reworking of a 2017 poem for Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: A RADICAL HOPE.
we came to the river on mist forest earthpaths, spangled with autumn’s first leaves firebright and deep green veined – on boardwalks tall-stepping through fern marsh
we came to the river walked its way for a while walked where the forest grows slow as mountains. at the pont crossing we left the path, did not cross to the forest hill ahead, but slipped instead under low branched trees onto the silt-sand beach in the shade, stepped into the water to continue upstream to where the sway of this river deep pools into its curves and a bright sand beach opens a moment to the sky. stepped into the river, skirts hitched, to walk the clear water sand between reedbank and deepwater,
but oh the tide, the tide of delicious water so much more than the kneedeep we expected – knees thighs stomach swallowed, tip-toeing almost shoulder deep arms held above our heads keeping dry what needs to be dry – laughing with the sun soft river that claimed us.
beyond the reeds beyond the curve beyond the chatter and call of the pont we splash amphibious onto the beach untie hair – strip and wring wet layers – hang them on low bushes to dry – plunge again into the river – follow breathless that deep water curve where it drops quiet and dark beyond tree-shadow and light.
i would like to speak its language this river that owns me speak its amber water tongue skin ripple – its gravel crunch hiss to underwater ears its gold leaf surface floating tide
but we came to this river rain drop to silver surface – submerged and swallowed we are lost to the tang of salt the belly laugh that deep bubbles rippling fern mirrors, lost to the unknowable depth and the sinuous flow.
there is no tongue to speak us until water formed and shaped we are birthed again and again to this world – radiant on the bank of the holy river.
For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: THE LANGUAGE OF THE WILD
1. she came so slow on silent feet i never knew she came at all rippled the forest floor pelt spot, no more than shadow and light. by morning breathless the leaves still sang their chorus of green but my world lived irrevocably changed knowing a leopard had stalked the night.
(far away and closer than bone the bombs fall and fall and fall.)
2. you do of course know as i know that this is one narrative – that might, that could that will end like this that there are other tellings of who we are in the world other worlds that wait still to be told
3. some days knee deep on the edge of this fathomless ocean, learning to hold longing like a pebble on my tongue beach warm and tasting salt until the heat of day breaks with the sky into night swimming stars and we submerged and bereft of light are slaked and slaked again in the dark waters of our beautiful unknowing.
4. strong in my hand and big as a bird the butterfly beats against the glass against my palms enclosing until caught, wings folded and silent. outside i open fingers like a carnivorous flower releasing the dust wings the paused shimmer the breath of stillness before flight
5. and could you still arrive at my door empty handed, lay down the burdens of time passed of said and unsaid to be here in the world once more – and could i arrive at yours
(and far away and closer than bone the bombs still fall and fall and fall.)
6. there are prayers now to be spoken by these hills – a chorus of rippling hallelujahs to be sung in smooth river rock. and we have come – all of us on hoof and foot and scale belly claw – still now in the presence of our own fading light. so we the forgiven and forgiving may live luminous on the shores of tomorrow
7. dear poet (and queen) i wonder sometimes, much as you are missed, if it was not better you left the world when you did – what would you have said bright eyes creasing smiles laughing off the shadows – what would you have said had you seen what happened since – how would you have kept alive that which was so alive in you – watching the world you loved unravel
(and far away and closer than bone the bombs still fall and we fall we fall we fall)
8. do we yield to this reckoning this leaf litter hair spine to root bone to tree reckoning . i have not the feet anymore to walk this back only the being here, sinking beneath and into this, into the skin – this smell of earth swallowing leaf drifting between, untethered wanting not wanting the feral claws, the soft pad indent walking unseen the ache of seasons rising in bones shedding form and shedding again until we are graveled tongue feathered furred scale nothing and unknowable opening eyelid after eyelid to taste the world anew.
For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: ANIMAL POETRY