almost summer now
and days stretch, longer
evenings gold and thick with
life open like a window in time –

sunstained by berries
rasp and young, goose and straw
i find myself, last light, in the garden
with wattle and string in hand,
scissors precarious in pocket,

(and it is hard not to be in love here
with this soil this place this earth
with these gods of here
whose names i have never known –
gods who stir and sigh
at the edge of our
living and dying
it is hard not to be in love

building trellis and temple
for the tomatoes that grow
elbow to finger tip by the day –
for the purple beans that
are reaching beyond their
cross-weave poles into the guava
and onto the shaggy sod-roof
of the hen house,

purple black sap pods
hang in handfuls
ready for the picking,
firm sticks for jalapeno and brinjal
while the sky seeps into the hill

and as the toad stirs
from its leaf home shallow dug
under the chamomile
for its night toading

i say my thanks close the gate
go inside to cook the beans
chop the greens

this always was
this might always be
this is

For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: TENDING A DIFFICULT GARDEN


first words

a first song
a clapping game
on a father’s knee –
lindi-ann is no good
chop her up for fire wood
when she’s dead
we’ll bake her head
into ginger bread.-
words shape us
when our tongues
are still learning
to shape the world.

there were days in between
perhaps years, when nasturtium leaves
were tall shade on damp spring mornings
their parasols shining wordless
veining cathedral glass
against the blueness of sky
while our hands learned gesture
good bye –
learned here is the church
here is the steeple
open thumb doors
where are the people.

one potato two potato three potato four

when we moved from that place
from our suburban house across the road
from the school where my brother
went before me
where i used to listen for the bell
violet fingered high in the
branches of the mulberry tree singing
nameless ballads of me and now and leaf
between mouthfuls of mulberry
and muttered incantations to
branches out of reach

when we moved from
that yellow bagged purple jacarandered
house in the suburbs i tied
a burst blue balloon around the
smooth barked branch
of my friend the guava tree,
to remind me of the place
so that one day i might return
and see that blue balloon
and remember it was all true
the world that i had sung
was real.

i know

and there were years,
days, lives between
when words and poets
swallowed me jonah whole
only to be spat out again to
see the world anew
and i waited by that shore,
drew the sound the sea made
with my toes in the sand,
tried to build song birds
out of found bones and broken wings,
drank salt mist from cupped hands
and waited
hoping to meet that whale once more
and once more
and once more,

waiting is not living.
knee deep in the world
the words come to find us.
i know

but suppose, like now
when warmth of spring
has gathered grey cloud
after a mornings weeding and
tying taller by the hour tomatoes,
and the rain falls sudden and hard
and the heat and the smell of it
rises damp thirst quenched from the soil,
and these words, all the words
become a blue balloon
tied to a smooth bark branch
marking a place where
the world sang true.

For Joy Ann Jones at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: FIRST POEMS, DOOR TO THE WILDER EYE.

burn this if you want to

i offer no illusion
last night the hen house was raided.
opened the door to a mess of
feathers and blood this morning,
all of them gone.

nothing of the spotted hen but her liver
licked clean on some star splashed quills.
the rooster dead and whole in the middle of it all,
too big to be carried into the night.

and what is to be done now
when there is no undoing
and blossoms still open
petal by petal
to the sun.

i offer no hope, i never could.
i never could be your shield
in the face of inevitability,
your deep pool
waiting for you to drown
in your own reflection.

i want to see us thrive,
but that is between me and
and the rich dark earth –
hands and knees
in the garden.

i offer no explanation
the moon rose.
the raspberries were good, tart,
early or perhaps really really late
either way there is no space in the sky anymore
for anything other than what always was
and always is. plastic bags have learned to swim like jellyfish,
riding ocean currents crammed thick and close
with plankton and krill and bottles and stuff.

i offer no religion
but the taste of rain
and pulsing forest
though you know
we turn to prayer
when the world is aflame
and the ocean starts to gnaw
at our cities, but who then
will be listening –
which sane god would choose
to love us now.

and of course we ran when the flames came close.
laid my hands on the soil of my home,
whispered stay safe while spring flower heads
towered and lolled in the unseasonable wind.
crammed child and goat and dog in our car
and fossil-fuelled our way to safety –
an ugly irony in this warming world.

i offer no excuse:
this is not a season we might remember,
but a landscape.
winter has washed through us,
left our bones clean to the wind

and yet spring rises – sap green and bursting,
birds are building nests in my hair.
when autumn comes,
the birds will fly
and i will be here

i offer nothing but this effigy.
gathered words and cloth bound with hair
and the grass rings woven while
the wild freesias bloom along the river

where sometimes fish as long as my arm
leap, slap the surface silver and
return to the depths i could never fathom –
even in summer, diving below,
ears taut and full with pressure
arms reaching beyond my breath
outstretched until there is nothing but sun-shafts, shadow-water
and eternity looking at this moment bathed in light.

i offer only this
burn it if you want to.

First published in Dark Mountain vol 15 – revised and reposted for Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: A LYRE FOR A CHANGING EARTH. Read his essay here


there is a cottage
at the edge
of the woods
in it lives a woman
a woman a woman,
it lives in women
the cottage
at the edge
of the woods.

the herbs that hang from the rafters
bunches of mpephu and nettle
and tulsi, the roses that grow
a blood thorned tangle
swoon sweet and
spread on october cloths to dry,
the bottled elder turned
by the light of the moon.
it lives
lives in women

in the sun amongst the trees
held in the crescent arms of forest
is a garden – a sun bowl facing north.
in that garden we grow the food
mulch the soil, say the prayers.
in that garden we grow the food
in soil dark like the night –
the greens soft and fire
and crunch to nourish,
picked bowlsful and
fresh in the evening –
the plums full heavy
with the turning of years.

and of course we have danced here
(like really here – see this circle
where these four paths meet?)
barefeet slapping silk-mud
while she rose and rose in the sky

and of course we have wept here
salt tears for a thirsty earth
the empty rooms, the quiet deaths.
hit hard spades at a sun-scorched earth
learned again and again
that there is no unsaying these prayers
no holding onto anything
when you give yourself to it

and of course we have laughed here
table slapping guffaws
clanging amongst the cutlery
with the light
and the light streaming in.

and of course we have planted trees here.
for our dead, for our living
for our food, for our prayers
their roots now entangling
with what was
what was.
their branches singing
songs of the sacred to the sky.

and of course we know
we are borrowed earth
that this body too will fade
like those before and those before
that we only become whole by healing
that by remembering the forest
as holy holy
we remember ourselves

there is a cottage
at the edge
of the woods
in it lives a woman
a woman a woman,
it lives in women
the cottage
at the edge
of the woods.

For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: A MAP OF HISTORY’S MYSTERIES. Read his wonderful essay here.


i had not meant to
flush diederik cuckoo from
the mulberry tree, first light

just bird called a song
i had not heard close
and loud before.

but he came emerald wings
flashing in early sun
landed bright close
on the blossom peach
looked at me
each as startled as the other

mid october when you bite
into first peach of the season
(even when it is not from your tree
because the early fruiters are not
established enough to fruit early
or consistently) but first of the season
here never the less
and sweet summer swims your tongue
and you lift your face
to the bluest of october skies
and know that all of it lives and dies
and lives again and yet still, here you are
leaning on the door frame
eating a ripe peach in the sun.

going south west
between here and the city
you drive the bread basket of the country
hours of soft hills and gentle flats
planted hundreds of kilometres
to wheat and canola and maize –
soil cleansed, left bare to that bright blue sky
between harvest and planting
wind squalls and big rains bleeding silt
into small seam creeks that might have lived.

this is how we feed ourselves
all of us. this is what the world looks like
when put all our metaphorical eggs
in just one basket.
there never can be any resilience
in a monoculture.
just pesticides and prayer
a precarious place to be
in a changeable world

brown watersnake rests
in the pond at the door
its body sinuous as waterlily stems
in the dapple leaf light
barely keeping nostril and eye
above water, it waits and
warms in the underwater sun
and i wonder what it is
to live so cool that warmth
is light through leaf through water.

along the catchment of a small tributary
of the touw, neighbours have gathered
to clear wattle from deep valleys
years of work to restore what we let slide

wattle was introduced
to the cape colony in 1871
to bolster its burgeoning industry.
a beautiful tree with useful tannins,
it was given a warm welcome –
what we did not know,
could not know
was fertile soil was waiting for
seed carried in a pocket, in a gut,
down a river – and with neither pest
nor parasite to halt its growth
the wattle grew faster and thirstier
than this soil had ever known before –
crowding out forest and fynbos
in its quiet green colonisation
until mountain side and deep valley alike
sighed its blue green monoculture –
drying riverbeds tinder
in the eye of the flame.

seems without our soil to remind us
we are no more than our thirst
growing rampant unchecked.

slow evenings
feeding goats in the almost dark,
stars nestle new leaf
amongst the pecan branches
first one, then another
then another
until the night
teems and throbs
with the living.

the problem with monoculture
is that there is no resilience
without diversity.
all across the world
we have embraced
this western capitalism –
merged markets, expanded globally

we have sold our gods and trees
for tourist dollars and thneeds
and here we are on our knees
on the crumbling steps
of the temples of
bigger better more

we have stuffed our pockets
and our faces overfull
until too slow to move
too slow to think
too slow
to hear or see or feel
we watch our own collapse
swipe to a new screen
watch our own collapse

and what if
on a day like any other
phone alarm school bus email
what if we planted seeds
with the full of the moon
danced barefoot
on earth paths new made
smeared mud on our faces
laughing with arms open to the sky.
what if we rose with the moon.

what if we didn’t.

For Brendan at earthweal’s weekly challenge: A BIODIVERSE POETRY


Image by Arum Glogauer

restless to the sound of saw and chipper
clearing deadwood around the house
ahead of the fire season
i cut my hair sewing scissors
in the bathroom mirror.
long dark strands on the floor.

in the quiet of evening
beyond the saws
i buried it forest litter
amongst the roots of tree.
muttering prayers and promises
i hope to keep despite the slow creep
of city across hills
spilling its restless seed
and bone jangling light

(long before
and long before
child me stamp sang
in sunday school
no turning back
praise the lord
no turning back
and we were taught
and schooled and prayed upon
even then
i knew an empty promise
when i tasted one
and this progress that drew closer
one supermarket
one strip-mall
one marble mall-temple for our new gods
was never progress at all)

and i wanted to write the love song –
sing branches and trunks to the sky
taste the words to live by
like river pebble in my mouth –
but there was no telling
tree from sky from earth from hand,
no telling the broken from the whole.
late afternoon and forest blew cool
my words were no more
than breath through our leaves.

For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: A TIMBERED CHOIR


Photo by Tamarisk Glogauer

there is no sanctuary
but here, waiting
in the soft between
rib and hip
and small of back.

first light we walked the waters edge
amid the silence and the shuffling reeds
waiting for the dawn flight of egrets
hundreds of white wings
flying the seam between river and sky
like breath across the water.

we came here to this place
this steep catchment slope
in the rain shadow of this mountain.
and perhaps we wanted
green pristine light leaf through forest
and stream that flows forever clear and clean –
but we were not that

thick wattle infested
with snares hidden among
old growth forest in the ravine.
the skin of the hill crackled dry
and disturbed

fed the goats under a low rumbling sky
in the goathouse we built through the summer.
found and old door with a porthole,
wooden walls, sod roof.
inside all is quite but the steady chew of cud
and the sibilant sighs of new rain in the roof grass.

these are our holy of holies
the prayers that shape us
and the living between.

we cleared the wattle.
finding forest trees and old scars.
had bonfires to the aching moon
burning the root stumps
sending sparks into the clear night sky –
we learned who lived here –
sometimes by bloody encounter in the henhouse –
sometimes by quiet recognition of other
while the mpephu grew waist high
and the seedbank dreamed a forest into being

how many years in the vegetable garden
last light, until trogon showed up
perched silent incandescent
on the fence post –
watching the scrape of hand furrows,
planting of seeds
in soil black soft now with time.

in the counting
of these numbered days
when waves no longer hiss on the shore
but counts its toll in available beds
and percentages of patients recovered
nine eggs from the hen house this morning
are solid smooth sanctuary in my hand.

we planted in the name of the goddess
and sought blessing of the gods
we never knew,
and we grew.

by the time trees new planted
were casting shade
the girls were naming their own gods
singing their songs to the soft growing earth
and my father had died here
his ashes becoming the land

and the years turned
and turned again
and the rhythms of seasons settled.
a wood owl landed with claw scratch
on the steep pitch roof of the house
to sit the night in deep song,
slowly slowly
hill becomes forest becomes sanctuary
we took time
we take time
to heal.

high summer i had gone
to the steep slope forest again –
to the tree at the centre of the centre
given myself to that yielding
forest floor, slept sun-dappled and adrift
amongst the curve of root and crunch of leaf
until my skin was no more
no beginning no end.
kingfisher called me from sleep
called low branched loud
just beyond my reach
called until breath by breath
i took form once more
found feet
and walked the world anew.

there is no temple
but here, waiting
in the soft between
rib and hip
and small of back.

this is our holy of holies
the earth prayer that shapes us
and the space that lives between.

Posted in response to Earthweal’s Weekly Challenge: Sanctuary

bundling brushwood for the fire

my words are few
under this greying sky,
wind tossing the trees
among clouds that smell of rain
while the goats stand by,
watching in a reverent silence
punctuated only by the drag of branch,
snap of twigs.

i had cut back the brambles yesterday –
cool under a distant blue sky,
picked my way
through the snagging thorns
hands careful as a bushbuck
in crack dry undergrowth.
clipping and pulling out
the jagged canes of new growth
that were closing the path,
revealing strangled branches
of anisodontea and leonotis beneath.

today – late afternoon
i gather the brushwood.
my hands snapping and
folding the small branches
into bundles of startwood
by muscle memory,
of lives and lives lived
on forests’ edge –
measuring the brush,
knowing strength of hand and stick,
gripping and folding
and snapping and folding again,
until days worth of bundles
rest on my hip as
i make my way home.

autumn has come,
the fires are lit.


WhatsApp Image 2020-04-01 at 09.56.52






planting the rain tree

by the time we woke
half-light christmas morning,
baby Rain had been lost to the night.
drag marks from where she slept
to where we found her,
swift neck kill and part eaten
speak of caracal –
big enough to steal a half grown goat
too small to lift her
dead-weight over fences.

and our hearts break
with her mother’s soft calling
as we carry her baby away
and open with wonder
for what stalks our nights.

there is little to be done
but that which needs doing,
so we gather mid morning
to bury her forest edge.
three grown daughters, a husband
and me, hacking a hole fit for a goat –
the spade ringing hard
against summer clay.

born mud soft
with the equinox rain
she has only lived
the warming season to be buried
spent body to the waiting earth
as the clouds gather
just beyond the solstice.
we plant a yule tree
as we fill the hole
evergreen indigenous
and wait for it to rain.