Here in the rainforest (that used to be called jungle before Everything became correct) we walk along quiet paths, more To be together these last years or days than to say aloud Aha that is a so-and-so or a such-and-such. Not to be proud Of learning, but to feel comfortable, we two and some Of creation's best efforts, maybe its pinacle; and what's to come Planned or random, but without us. Inside the screen of sound And moist warmth we circle our future, bringing it to ground Like hunters their prey. Some things we know: that which lies In your genes; and if not their latin names, at least the cries Of unseen birds blanketing the forest can be made clear: Screams, screeches, honks and hoots no one place yet everywhere, near Or beyond the river along which we are lodged some hours Away. And you love the plants for leaves and features, not flowers Of spectacular beauty; for knowing how to find their way up vast Trunks to reach the distant dappled sky. Or suspend roots past Thick branches, dangling down like matted hair to find rich leafy earth. You note the tiny delicate ones; those which spread leaves in green Showers; trees rooting from fallen seeds; and somehow, between Telling of these wonders and our silent treading of paths, you become Less fragile, another falling leaf; even angry when I play dumb, Desiring to capture your leaflike beauty in my memory, to replay When it is allowed to me to live my grief, that coming awful day. Thus you tell of ferns and ginger and banana and palms and climbers; and show Me the frightful rattan, that climbing palm which needs height to grow Its beautiful suspended fruits, like giant earrings. Yet which tears Its thorns into your flesh if you stumble, as I did where years Of passing shoes and boots had worn the path to muddy chaos. Later You removed the thorns with a needle. And which, I thought, was the greater Loss: my need of you, or nature's? And when finally we enter camp I hold your hand, yet unfelt by you, cling. And my face weeps with sweat, more damp Than my sweat-soaked shirt or pants or shoes, since I have eyes And they have seen beyond the screen, and there is no surprise. ------- On our walk today we saw a snake in the stream we were about to cross Pounce on a frog; hold tightly with its small jaws to a long leg, toss The frog out then swallow more deeply on the leg. You warned me to be still, Not to disturb the snake else it may lose its meal. For this kill Is what must be; and we waited for half an hour as the snake slowly drew The frog deeper into its mouth. Luckily there were no leeches; but I grew Impatient at last, and tried to tiptoe across the stream, but the snake Reared away in fright, and lost its meal. You were angry, but I take No blame, being a city's child. Yet saddened: this you had taught me. And later, above our heads, sliding along a branch was a slender green Snake, as long as my own body, and we stopped to watch, and were unseen. ---------- Back home our house is built on rock. And our garden is what nature grew There: profusion of veld grasses, velvet bushwillows now in summer with new Lime-green leaves; wild pear trees dazzling spring with blossoms like snow. And stamvrug trees that bear small red fruit directly off the stem That are sweeter than any Eden could have made, unless Eden made them. Yet new neighbours next door brought in labourers with picks and a chain saw And in one afternoon destroyed every indigenous plant, and more: Trees and shrubs which had been planted to fill spaces, until only bare rocks remained. In order to rid their city garden of thorns, spiders and snakes, she said. Yet you had explained To her that these were harmless grass snakes, not found in trees. Nothing would rid Her garden of spiders. Could she (though named Robin) find every place they hid? And what of thorns? Africa is a place of thorns. Who will protect her child Against the stings and venom of man? Teach him here, where civilized meets wild. The land is hers, she spat, to do with as she wished. (And now there are a few palms Clustered among the rocks, suburban talismans like steeples; shabby fronded charms.) ------------- Beyond the borders of this rainforest (a preserved park) most is gone, logged For export and to plant trees for palmoil and rubber. Dogged Surgeons of the soil, those who plan have removed the delicate skin Of compost in which the forest grew, what has gone can never again begin. It is man's way. And always a reason. Someday even this park Will be gone. I will sell my ground to some other Robin to civilize and render stark. Later man will vanish. Slowly the sun will die. With it the earth. Until the last cry of life, the last moment of joy and agony, the final birth And death. Then the universe will be silent. What then does my grief Matter? All is destined to pass, nothing lasts, whatever lives its brief Course, days or years numbered in billions, goes. Yet such cries Of protest will wing from this world, from every plant that tries To reach heaven, yet is limited by its own genes, should you ascend Into madness, that all must stop, trapped by that cry into a sudden end. ------------------------------- 11 November 1996
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Last updated: Dec. 4, 2010