Taking the cows home


The children are chasing a cow and her calf
“hup hup hup!”
shouting like their fathers.

The cow rolls her eyes,
escapes, tail swishing.
the calf jumps through the wire gate
at the old rectory,
the cow leaps the fence.

Veena shouts
“You’re making the cows crazy”
mutters to me,
her toothless mouth
turns the words to sludge
but I nod and laugh anyway.

Stan’s sheepdogs lie in the shade
next to the Dutch Reform Church.
Since he died
no one herds his cattle,
not even the children.
He drove, while the dogs ran,
taking the cows home.


there is a giddy joy
when welcoming visitors at the gate
the hugs, I always hug them
the moment before they surrender

sitting at the table
passing salt, cutting bread,
pouring wine
the sacrament of friendship
in times of plague

I’m melting into the earth now
trembling with gratitude
washing dishes, wiping counters

we’ll walk up the mountain together
stand on the edge of the kloof
where the blombos flowers,
come down again
and say goodbye.

(a kloof is a ravine, often with a river flowing through it, and blombos is a white flowered heather
which smells like honey – you can see it in the photo.)

laundry day

hanging white sheets from bamboo pegs
under a blue sky
I see the grace
you brought to our everyday.

(for my upstairs neighbour, who moved house yesterday)

Judy Stokes Photography

I’m so delighted to have been featured alongside Judy Stokes’ exquisite photographs. The exhibition opened in Auckland yesterday at the Railway St Gallery. Some poems were written for the exhibition and some were adapted, or extracted especially to match images. Here is the one inspired by my previous poem.
The storm

A storm, from the verandah at Fairview.

Lightning, accusing, says “You will remember me.”
We stand transfixed, the sky electric.
The air tastes of lost love and warm honey
flying ants drop their wings at our feet.

Thunder curses, the wind is a question.
The earth sighs in dreams
as the storm hunches its back
and enters the green gate, pregnant with rain.

the dancer

A snail is walking the tightrope
on the stem of
a broad bean in my
morning garden.

I watch her balance
and dance, moving to the left
then to the right.
Why is she still awake?
She should go to bed
where it’s cool and dark
before the sun comes.

She winds her body around
the stalks of yellowed leaves,
her horned eyes
as mobile and
as delicate
as a ballerina’s hands.

Indra’s Net, a poetry anthology

I’m delighted to be featured in this international anthology – sales go towards literacy projects in Africa, Asia and South America, so if you would like to support a good cause and read poetry at the same time, here you are ….

The following is an extract from Carol Rumens’ foreword:

The title of this anthology, Indra’s Net, was suggested by one of its poets, the late Cynthia Jobin. She explained: “Indra’s net is a metaphor for universal interconnectedness. It’s as old as ancient Sanskrit and as ‘today’ as speculative scientific cosmology. It’s what came to mind when thinking about nets and webs and interconnectedness … and jewels and poems.”

There are many ways in which the metaphor suits the anthology. It’s a book filled with poetic gems, of course, the work of a happy mixture of new and well-known writers, including prizewinning poets like Beverley Bie Brahic and Katharine Towers. The poems connect: poems always do. The poets may have shared their work and reached their global readership via the Internet. And then there’s the most important net of all, described by Wallace Stevens as “The magnificent cause of being,/ The imagination, the one reality/ In this imagined world …”



School holidays

Just after dawn
while the sun is still a red ball
and the ground mist rises
from the veld

we make a fire
and brew coffee
in a tin can with a wire handle.
Milk, sugar and Ricoffy,
stolen from the kitchen.

We squat in the dust
and warm our hands
at the embers
wait for it to boil.

The coffee tastes of smoke,
promises aardvark dens,
snake hunts, paper thorns,
stubbed toes and squabbles.

The problem with Dave

is that he doesn’t like surprises,
needs to practise his conversations
so as not to be left bereft of words.
Small talk is easier now,
he’s thirteen and knows
a series of phrases
repeated in the right order.

His words are not filed like yours and mine,
conveniently grouped by subject,
but clumped together in a sticky mass.
He has to search for each elusive one,
has learned to say,
“I’m going to change the subject”
before he talks.

But I have seen him, seated in the train
winking at pretty girls
raising his ginger eyebrows
and smiling, his rosy lips a perfect curve.
I have seen him in the waves, surfing,
laughing ’til his breath runs out,
and I have watched him
talking to his striped cat
with his hands
on the windowsill in the sun.

Spring equinox

I’m down in the valley
fingering the fat furry pods
of lupins
and up above in a cave
people have gathered
I hear them singing.

I wonder if I could
piggyback my pleas
on their prayers
but then I see that god is here
in the plump seeds
and in the wind that sets
my teeth on edge
like bad chalk
on a blackboard.

it’s a fine time to climb a mountain
to be closer to heaven,
or to be a tadpole tumbling
in a river swollen
by late rains,
while the full moon hides
behind the sun’s skirts
waiting for dark.

May 2022

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