touw river on a sunday

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

the reckoning

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.)

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

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

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

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.)

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

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

(and far away
and closer than bone
the bombs still fall
and we fall
we fall
we fall)

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

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

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 –
pulled from the darkness
and then returned

now our children
learn the songs of war

learn that fear speaks prophetic
when given a voice unchecked.

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
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.

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 open to the night
and the sky and the light
and the shadow
and the light.

held held held
by the quiet
of dark earth
knowing not knowing
the rising suns
and moons that pass,
the way the rich dark
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

But also strongly influenced by Brendan’s essay for the Dark fire weekly challenge which I have been sitting with for a few weeks. Read it here

with thanks to both.


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

wilding prayer


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


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)

minutes of the wilderness heights community meeting – thursday 27 january 2022

image by arum glogauer

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 –

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
in the light
we are

Linking to Earthweal’s weekly challenge: The Swan

swan song

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

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

For Brendan at earthweal’s weekly challenge: THE SWAN

after the rain

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

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

(holy) well

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

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
and depth
and depth enough
to slake our desire
quench our thirst.

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.

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

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