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 here it is hard not to be in love here)
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 eat
this always was this might always be this is
For Brendan at Earthweal’s weekly challenge: TENDING A DIFFICULT GARDEN
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 please want 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.
illogical 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,
sometimes waiting is not living. sometimes knee deep in the world the words come to find us. illogical 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.
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 still, 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.
there is a cottage at the edge of the woods in it lives a woman a woman a woman, more. 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 completely
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 wholly.
there is a cottage at the edge of the woods in it lives a woman a woman a woman, more. it lives in women the cottage at the edge of the woods.
1. 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
2. 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.
3. 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
4. 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.
5. 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 unknowing.
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.
6. 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.
7. 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 wanted.
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 swipe
8. 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
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.
1. there is no sanctuary but here, waiting in the soft between rib and hip and small of back.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. these are our holy of holies the prayers that shape us and the living between.
6. 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
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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
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.
there is no talking
as it would break the spell
and wake serena
who sleeps with woolly breaths,
her head on my shoulder
on a slow autumn afternoon.
sewing scissors in hand
i free the goat from the pile of curls,
gathering the fleece
for winter spinning
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
and wait for it to rain.