nested ecologies: i am because you are

“to be,
to exist,
means to be so
for the community
and for the other”*

the self emerges
butterfly stretching wings
hippo from the river
termites taking flight
after rain,
the self emerges
from relationship with others
and with the dust, rock and tree
of the world

the human is never alone
she is part of the creature humanity
in constant communication
and communion
with one another
in permanent listening
to the pulse of the world
skin close contact
with the stars.

within you
within me
are vast ecologies
a microbial fauna and flora
weighing as much as our brains.
a functioning ecosystem
of diverse individuals
who think of us(perhaps)
as planet home.
every living breath we take
becomes the breath of many

and what if we learned
when we were children
that this mountain
had a name as old as she
and both she and her name
are sacred
what if we knew
how to tend our forest
like our family
what would it mean
to plant a tree
to be embedded in this place
doing as we would be done by.

could we learn
that “a solitary human
is a contradiction in terms”* 
could we learn to speak anew
to lay hands on the earth
and truly say
i am because you are.

because when elephants die
hundred unexplained
when we lose pangolin
and clawless otter and the brenton blue,
the place where they lived in us
shrinks a bit more
we become diminished
less human than we were before

and as the sun breaks
between cloud,
catches sunbird
singing iridescent
on the rain hung branch,
i too, for a moment
am sung iridescent

that we have been here all along
becoming and becoming
that which we already are.



*uBuntu – Desmond Tutu


For Sarah at Earthweal’s weekly challenge:   Looking for a new hierarchy.  



what of these chapels
perilous or not
that were built
on the charred bodies
of women –

chapels that harnessed and yoked
the prayers of the earth
in service of a sky god
that knew nothing
of women like volcanoes
who burned with the making of mountains
long before these insipid fires
licked them lifeless –

but prayers remember their makers
remember their hips and feet
dust on the temple floors,
remember lips that curve and hum
hands that hold and cup
and plant prayers
like a seed
like a hope
like a forgiveness.

the roof of the chapel sags now
with the deadweight of your sky god
grown fat on stolen harvests
and pillaged wealth.
they will fall
these temporary erections
to a god who never came.
even when people were bought and sold,
tortured, left tongueless in his name,
even then he never came.
never smited or punished
never said not in my name
will you destroy my creation.

and when the meek defended
their inherited earth –
the walls shook
with the laughter of the sky god
as they were trodden underfoot
paving new roads to the west
with the bodies of heathens.

and don’t come to me
with you taming the savages
we cleansed the earth bullshit –
human sacrifice still exists
in the exalted marble halls
of corporate capitalism,
a price per kilometer
to drop a mine shaft in africa
plummet to the centre
paid for in human lives –
a collateral damage expected
but rarely owned.

sometimes late nights
or perhaps over tea
the loose tongues
of retired mine engineers
name the price
speak the horror
that weighs their souls
and what it really means
to the miners on shift
to be worth your weight in gold.

this has been our perilous chapter
since the first witch was drowned
by the light of a waning moon.
burned, hands bound and naked
in the village square, by priests
who feared not the wrath of god
but the scorching touch of the goddess
that beat her drum in the heart
of every woman,
the gods of stone and river and tree
that would take their priestly promise
of eternal stagnation and let them rot
body and soul devoured by hungry soil
to live again animal, mineral, vegetable
enlivened by that which always was

what then of human endeavour
if all that we become is a handful of worms,
some words to feed the birds
and the light that slants
gold through trees
touching iridescent on her wings

or the wild boar
who harrowed the fields
long before we dreamed it.


Linking in to the weekly challenge at Earthweal.








and of course we were made for this
came as heroes
hair billowing in the slow-motion wind
last light of day casting us
in gold and shadow,
we were made for this
and we came, all of us,
because it was time
and we were what was needed

yelped at first breath
of this new world
that already we loved
but somehow
glitch in the system
we had forgotten why
and some of us had mothers
to remind us of love
and some of us
had more perilous journeys
but one day, no matter the age,
when the wind blew
and light shifted between trees
or we held a seed in our hand
or touched rich soil
among the new unfurled
and felt that life
beneath the skin of the earth
and something stirred
a memory flashed
and for a moment we knew
we were born for this
and we ached with an impatience
longing for what would be.

some amongst us
remembered young
cool nights
children singing in a circle
in the kitchen because
the house is so jammed
with their living that there
is no other floor space
eight, ten voices
rising and falling
windows and hearts
open to the night
and there
in the centre of the circle
the vision lived

some of us would break first
with the disjoint
of a spluttering earth
the hunger, the wars,
the illogical destruction
and relentless stupidity of ecocide –
the word apocalypse slipping
into everyday speak
until hollow and unliving
we sit in the blue flicker light
of a telling of the world
that will surely
be the death of us
and somewhere outside the window
there is a sound almost familiar
half heard in the noise of the world
and strength of titans
you lean forward in your chair
find the remote
switch off the tv
and in the silence that buzzes
you wait breath held
until the bird outside your window
sings once more
and you remember
that you have forgotten something
and it lives like a hunger
waiting to be fed.

perhaps there was no glitch
this vision belongs
to the doing of flesh and bone
the muscle memory of beating hearts
pushing blood seeped in oxygen breathed by trees
our remembering and future held,
synapse flash silver on river water,
by each fragment of shell and rock
become sand beneath our feet.
our words are shaped
plosive and fricative
in the soft of our mouth
formed by the silence
between sound,
but it is who we are
when our speaking
knows our silence
that remembers us.

we were made for this
came as heroes
hair billowing in the slow-motion wind
last light of day casting us
in gold and shadow
and truly this could be
last light of day
time to remember
why we came.


For Earthweal’s weekly challenge


WhatsApp Image 2020-05-06 at 13.02.18




what returns


the moon grows full
in an april sky
and still the world is quiet –
humans gone to roost
a great clattering
noise of centuries
suddenly stopped

when hope returned
to the city streets
it came with claw and hoof
and webbed toes scrabbling
on the pavement.
it padded and clattered
patterned fur and roughened hide
through a world we had forgotten
was inhabited.

like a bud
like a season
like a forest
like the moon
like a seed
turned sapling
stretching in the light,
life returns.




if it is the beginning
you seek
the unravelling comes first
close below the ribs
a roar of migrating butterflies
uncharted unnamed
new wings tested by the wind.

if it is the beginning
you seek
then take those coins
from your eyes,
if the ferryman
brought you here
he has already been paid

if it is the beginning
you seek
i hope you have boiled the eggs
stashed nuts in your socks
we may have to feed
the wolves along the way
or ourselves

if it is the beginning
you seek
it may be too late
this is trickster light
that bends between trees
and we haven’t seen the world
clearly for years,
wiping water from our eyes
when already
we are submerged

if it is the beginning
you seek
etch in gold upon my breasts
the way of our longing,
we are forgetful not forgotten –
matter remembers itself,
the dark path and veins
it knew earthwarmed
before it was mined
assigned value,
let warmth of skin
enliven this old story
let heartbeat be drum enough
to sound our way home.

if it is the beginning
you seek
then lay yourself down
let sleep be your witness
let the stars come,
the planets in procession –
let them name you again
from the darkness unknowable
let the silence of stars
be the silence between pulse
and wave and breath
because there in that silence
is the beginning we seek
and the end we must come to
before we reach the shining shore
at the edge of tomorrow

if it is the beginning
we seek
the map is carved in
the bones of the earth
flesh of our beings
there is no other way
but home.



for Brendan’s weekly challenge at Earthweal

where albertus slept


my oupa lived in the outside room
of his large house.
he had grown up in sutherland
under the vast karoo skies
before the observatory was built there
herded sheep as a boy
before the wars changed the world –
despite his ancestry and
the complexity of south african colonial politics
he joined churchill’s men
serving in north africa and italy
his mother never forgave him,
that branch of the family tree
remaining severed.

it was a small room
one door one window
deep shadows
a bed a bench
a buckskin on the floor.

sometimes he would sit outside
in his yellow morris chair in the sun
sipping black moerkoffie
from a saucer held in shaking hands.
he smoked a pipe
sniffed snuff from his thumb-joint.

he told us about the war sometimes
my brother and i –
about caves in north africa
that had acted as barracks for both sides.
grim stories of corpses and the bitter biting cold
and trains and towns with strange names
and strange songs.
we hung on those words
traipsing across continents

he grew grapes on a trellis on a sunny wall
felt the weather in his bones
predicting rain by the ache in his knees.

he said grace in high dutch
at the dark polished table
big enough for sunday lunch
high ceilinged with fine china
a stern wife and seven children.
sometimes and christmas
my brother and i would sit among them
cousins everywhere
and still the table was big enough
and oupa would pretend to choke on his pudding –
pull a two rand note from his mouth
a ransom to us in those days
and we loathe to eat the brandy soaked confection
vigorously doused it with custard
spooned it in, finding nothing
but small coins amongst the laughter
until his wife would say
that’s enough now albert
and the table would quiet down
and the dishes carried away

alone he would return to his room
off the back of the house
where he slept as always
with his door open to the stars
perhaps as he had
when he was a boy in the karoo
herding sheep on the open plains
in a smaller world
with a bigger sky.


5. Mammals/poets/fish


found a poet last night
late in a quiet house
devoured poem after poem,
like a bird like
the shoals of big-eyed moonfish
like a mongoose slipping into undergrowth –
you don’t want to see those alone.
you want to call and point
say there the wing
catching light,
see there they flash silver
in dark water as they turn –
you want to shape those words
sound them with shared breath
you don’t want to find them alone.


april harvest


there is nothing
to be said
of what was
or might be
on days like these
when the tang
sweet of summer
leans light into autumn
and fruit hangs full round
on the trees.


WhatsApp Image 2020-04-24 at 15.21.30
Tamarillos full ripe on the trees today.