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
“To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,” Wendell Berry
1. some nights late in the dirt road quiet, darkness leaning close like trees along the way alive alive with warm air touching skin touching road touching feet. ahead behind within and out of reach fire flies make the world anew, a slow dancing pulse of light – leaf trunk hand sky pulled from the darkness and then returned returned
2. now our children learn the songs of war
learn that fear speaks prophetic when given a voice unchecked.
3. and what is to be said of this dark that comes – has been coming since before and before has been creeping convoy 64km long for millennia –
and what if we think the dark that comes is not ours to own that darkness is not ensouled by us all
do we turn our backs on it – wait for the light.
and what if the light that shines bright flash rocket strike in the night, what if that light that comes is ours too.
and can we step out into this dark drizzle night walk the starless paths between seasons and know what has been and what is to come is nothing to this rain blissed soft walking of now – nothing to this communion of breath in the long dark of this now.
4. hearts break and break again are crushed heavy handed with the weight of our ways shattered merciless by our own broken living of the world break
break open to the night and the sky and the light and the shadow and the light.
5. held held held by the quiet of dark earth knowing not knowing the rising suns and moons that pass, the way the rich dark embraces the silent swelling of seasons
and the wait and the longing until the bud breaches the bulb, names the season – brings forth the light.
For Sherry at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: wild hearts can’t be broken
it is not like we can wait, burning as we do with the long ache for dissolution of self among the choir of trees – barefeet crunching in late summer leaves
it is not like we can wait, hem entangled in snag breath lichen twigs and thorn – to part ferns, soft grown knee high, to find this slow undoing where the longing of bones meets rapturous the long silence of trees.
it is not like the world can wait
For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: WILD MIND
and always and again this light comes distils into bird song calls us from sleep sings our awakening
and perhaps we never needed to overthink this being here – perhaps all we ever know, all we ever needed to know is that we are here-now women becoming lichen becoming tree-light bushbuck forest becoming morning becoming women
sunflowers turn their bright sky faces to look to the earth to the rich dark soil the unfathomable life of roots and microbe and worm
you have to give yourself to it completely, until you are boneless in the river – a body of water lapping with the windblown waves
the only way to stay afloat is to give yourself to the river completely, to be buoyed by saturates and densities and the lightness of your being.
to tip your head back hair sea-grass to the saltwater close your eyes soft until bright sun through blood and flesh of eyelid become that other sky and we become the reed-bank river, the mud crab and the grebe flowing with the incoming tide.
blood warm and smooth as silt the honey spilled the spoon drenching the afternoon in long remembered sweetness
and when the rain came, to break the heat that lay heavy on the hills – pushing our breath, it came cool from the warm sky and we who had been waiting through the heat of days held our hands and arms like wilted leaves to the rain listening to the soft splatter voice speak our need fulfilled until skin drenched and stripped of our lethargy we laughed with the sky.
between breath and horizon the sounding of a slow sea that shapes the long shore of our sleep
between breath and horizon the quickening of evening wings the click of frog the waking of the night
there was a time when when her feet still soft indented this dust when the rain pooled her footprints and the wild places grew where she walked. she dreamt the night erupting in stars – and it did.
did she know the feet that followed never could trace the intricate back forward turn of her dance – hair and arms alight with stars. did she know we would try fail, try again. did she know the feet that followed?
in the long dark silence of this night we have only this breath to find our way through only our bodies our light our longing let it be enough let us be enough
In response to Brendan’s beautiful essay at Earthweal’s weekly challenge GREEN FIRE (wild and sacred)
we sat on the grass on the steps stood, leaned waited – some brought chairs for the elderly, the frail
we came with empty hands, old wounds and words that burned holes in our tongues and kept us silent for years, we came with new ideas and shared concerns we came with love –
we gathered because it is time because there is a child on the street corner who says she is hungry and her mother has passed and if it will take a village to raise this child we have gathered to be that village – build a village from our broken past.
we have gathered because there is a future that calls us to be here together – now.
and the blue clouds heavy with promise held their rain until the talking ended.
and the late sun broke the dark horizon – bathed us in gold, skin and leaf and grass seed alike
illuminated us momentarily in the light we are becoming.
tell me now how the world ends now that morning has come on broad-wings measuring the sky with the slow breath of feathers.
tell me by the ancient light of stars by the stardust that became our bones how this path ahead – this real as mud earth tree path never was for our walking that we have lived all we can be – that it is done now over.
is there time still for that rain bundling the horizon to touch my skin – douse the summer heat until i drip pool run rivers to the sea
for what is this world but our relationship with the earth made manifest
and what is broken but our hearts – our connectedness to the earth we are
and what is this end but shedding a scarred skin too long held
screaming our fear into the abyss of our birth as all we thought we were falls around us
scaled and scabbed and crusted with old blood – it must all fall
so we may meet ourselves first light of morning bright skin learning a world anew.
For Brendan at earthweal’s weekly challenge: THE SWAN
down at the estuary the river has breached her bank pushed the crashing shore in a tumult of dark water and waves. spawning fish wait on the turning tide.
down at the estuary between the trees water flows thick and dark swirling whirlpools and eddies along the rocks, scraping sand and old stories from deep pools to the sea to the sea.
down at the estuary houses have been swamped silt dumped – boundary fences matchsticks against the surge, tide lines smudged below the windows.
there is no owning her this river full drunk on big rain she flows as she will as she does
down at the estuary frogs are giving thanks from earth-bank, reed and tree a jubilant pulse – entraining my breath and heart to the season while birdsong explodes from the dripping trees and wet grassheads are silvering in morning light.
For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: PRAISING IS WHAT MATTERS
1. 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
2. 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. powerless
3. 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 maybe 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. but the elephant we hoped to see – aah the knysna elephant biggest of the forest dwellers were not as lucky as the loerie.
7. 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 is remembers gill and claw and tree branch firm underfoot remembers who we are were 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
1. there are no cruel and bitter gods here, no winter frosts that bite black death in the shortening days –
our gods are moon and sun and the green green growing, our gods are river and tree, the grass rattle seeds of summer and the songline of birds singing bridges between worlds –
the gods here speak frog-tongue fly translucent on insect wings shatter the darkness with a cacophony of stars. the gods here live
2. into the dark quiet we drop a stone count the silence until it is swallowed by water
know only that somewhere in the depths is a surface rippling now with our measure and beyond that depth and depth and depth enough to slake our desire quench our thirst.
3. of course we brought those cruel and bitter gods here too brought our gods of paradise lost to paradise – carried them bone jangling in the pit of our stomach. eat or be eaten kill or be killed tried to make the world as we thought it until we learned to see.
4. there is no right way up on this globe north and south can be either here or there – but our bodies like sunflowers know the seasons and poles turn and turn towards the light
5. and will there be feasting on the shores of tomorrow – will our feet still imprint our wild spinning dance – will the tide take our prayers like a blossom to the tide.
the trees that blossom here were planted on the ashes and bones of our dead. these trees that blossom here were planted – roots running deep, seeking the holy well.
For Brendan at earthweal’s weekly challenge: ALL SOULS