Sunday, 17 January 2021

Left hand lead

Those of you who follow my social media posts may have picked up a recent one, in which I share that I had been encouraged by a soul healer to allow my left hand to show me a way forward.

I tried writing with my left hand and found it a very interesting exercise. I have continued and it has led me to a fascinating creature - the chameleon. (If you have the patience to read the handwritten words in the accompanying image, you may be quite entertained to see how exactly my left hand led me.) 

Credo Mutwa, whose book, Isilwane, could be said to play the role of a kind of left-hand somebody (as distinct from a right-hand man) in my idiosyncratic questings, composed a beautiful praise song to the chameleon.

Praise Song to the Chameleon (extracts)

You, of whom warriors of old were afraid
And you, of whom the men today are also afraid
Little chameleon, what is the secret of your magic?
Why do the children of Africa hold you in such dread?
Even the bravest will quail at your touch
Even the mightiest will shrink from handling you
Only little children, secure in their innocence, dare to hold you in their hands
What is your story, chameleon?
Chameleom, the slow one, unwabu!
Chameleon, the beautiful one who changes his colours
Chameleon, the symbol of the sanusis, keepers of the hidden wisdom
They taught us in the great huts of grass
They taught us in the caves and in the holes in the ground
They taught us that we should be like chameleons, invisible to our enemies
They taught us to seek the knowledge of long ago and to see both into the future and into the past
To see both into the visible world and into the invisible world
Just as you swing your eyes, one looking forward and one looking backward
So we are taught to be like you

Anne Keating, in her wonderful book, Wild Voices, writes:

You have been taking a good look in the mirror recently and seeing a few of the masks you have been using to camouflage yourself. You realise what a burden they are becoming and are asking yourself WHAT FOR? Why am I keeping up this exhausting camouflage? 
When you are drawn to Chameleon it is a very positive and strong sign that you are now determined to face any self-delusion and remove your masks for good.
And this goes even further.
You will show little tolerance for deception in others in any situation. [...] You are looking for the REAL world [...]

Keating, furthermore, gives the key word for chameleon as PRECISION. The focused, carefully deliberated aim, with which chameleon's tongue is able to target and seize its prey, is a reminder not to rush and to allow pure intention to be the leader of your actions.

Left-handed journal entry, 17th January 2021 

Detail from the illustration for chameleon in Isilwane by Bowen Boshier.

Photo: Silke Heiss

Stretching himself to reach another branch. Photo: Silke Heiss




Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Lost, or: The chrysocolla and the butcherbird. A blogpost in two chapters.

I've lost.
Lost you: my thinking, feeling reader.
Lost me: your writer, um, your thinker-feeler.
Now what?

Chapter 1

Got in touch with my late husband, desperately. He 'told' me to buy a fancy bottle of wine. A minute or two later, still standing in the supermarket aisle among the wines (before the latest lockdown), a dear, late friend of mine 'told' me to buy another, fairly fancy bottle of wine.

I meekly obeyed both of them. Opened the red on Christmas day and toasted my late husband vocally in the presence of my parents. Has ever a wine had a more soothing, centring, balancing effect on me? Never.

The next day, Family day, I opened the white and toasted my late friend in everyone's presence and, again, the afternoon turned golden.

My obedience to my heart and her loves is simply the right thing.
Need to put that in bold.
My obedience to my heart and her loves is simply the right thing.

But still, I was lost: in the tyranny of daughtering. When my father came into the kitchen the next day, where I was, as usual, cooking, and said, "You are SO kind!" I replied morosely, "Yes. It's awful."
He said he would help if he could, and so he polished the blackened silver cake forks, while my poor, paralysed mother audibly lamented her helplessness.

Unkindly, on the phone to my Beloved later, I ranted beyond reasonable about the curse of being kind. I guess I was balancing (cancelling?) my kind deeds with highly ungracious words revealing pretty septic resentment.

But then.

I confronted the disturbance in my heart, the ungraciousness.

Chapter 2

I'd made my parents a calendar for Christmas, as usual, and for the month of May, which is my birthday month, I used a photo of myself, looking at a bird. Underneath the picture I'd pasted the words: 

 Listen to the song in your heart, whether the sun shines or it snows.

The bird is a butcherbird and although the photo (taken by my Beloved) is stunning, and the quote does speak how I have by and large lived my life, the vicious reputation of the bird bothered me.

However, Google (butcherbird) told me, with exquisite immediacy:

The fearless butcherbird reminds us to protect our territory. If it has shown up, you may be at risk of being undermined or of losing a thing of value.
That same day, my mother, ill-advisedly or wisely (which is it?) tippling once again from early on in the afternoon to assuage "the bitter taste in my mouth," said, 
"I keep trying to think of the name of a stone, but can't get away from croissant."
"Chrysoprase!" I said.
Her eyes widened. "Chrysocolla," she retorted. "How did you ... ?"
"It's obvious," I retorted in turn.

The daughter is not that for nothing.

She sent me to fetch her big box of various pieces, designed and cut and polished and smithied by her, and gave me a necklace with a Chrysocolla pendant. The cabochon and every link is fashioned by her. In better times, of course. (was fashioned = simple past: upon a time)
I danced! How it suits everything I am and wear! (am, wear = simple present: true forever)
"I have never seen it," I said.
"I never wore it," she replied, "I made it thinking of you. I wanted to give it to you."

Google (chrysocolla healing and chrysocolla sound) supplied more than enough for me to begin to be able to dissolve the septic resentment and ungraciousness that had been holding my soul hostage.

By means of words.
To myself.
To you.

Truth is not straightforward.

Chapter 3

Please forgive the photo of the pendant, the evening was getting on.

Appendix Note

You can still see the pendant and necklace enough to get a sufficient sense of things.

Butcherbird and me (passing though Hermanus). Photo: my Beloved.

Chrysocolla pendant with handmade silver necklace, by Sigi Heiss. Bad photo: Silke Heiss



Wednesday, 16 December 2020

The leopard is a person

We took ourselves to the Cederberg for the first time as parents ... it must have been 2003 ... our son was 5 years old at the time. The camps were in transition, the old Parks Board was giving way to the new SAN Parks, and it was possible, in that administrative gap, to snatch incredible opportunities of empty, unattended campsites, costing next to nothing to stay in.

There was one other occupied camping spot, besides ours, and the people there said they'd seen leopard tracks and scat, and that if we left early, for our hike planned the next morning, we might be so lucky as to spot a royal mother and her young one.  

Our son made sure we were up before dawn. He just about sprinted up, ahead of us on the extremely steep incline. Once on top, we lost the path. We traversed five mountains that day, ever on the lookout for a path we never found. Our son was finally asleep on his legs, walking with his eyes closed as I pushed him gently onward, and my poor then-husband sprained his ankle at the eleventh hour. Only with difficulty did we get back to the tent, and to the miracle of a woman with ice wraps, as it happened, unbelievably. She had been sent there to take the little money we owed.

This poem - written as an Italian sonnet - developed out of that day.

The leopard is a person

The leopard is a person who conceals
herself, but likes to loer to see where you
might keep yourself and what you do. She reveals
no pawprints, though occasionally a youngster's poo

provides a possible track for you to follow,
past rocks with eyes, in heat and fearful hollow:
where who knows what may lurk, and watch, and wait,
with centuries to spare, while you meet fate.

Sit down there, eat your lunch and breathe her home
of purple lava, rippled down in curves,
jump frog-sung ditches, turned to stone -
and feel the flitches of your human nerves.

The leopard is a person so alone.
Could be she is the one who made this poem.

- Silke Heiss, October 2006

loer = Afrikaans, integrated into South African English, meaning to spy on, to look secretively or furtively

According to Anne Keating, in Wild Voices Messages from the Soul of Africa, Leopard cautions you "to be alert to the signs and omens on your path [...] You feel the need to cut the extraneous out of your life and hone in on what is really important." 
There is further caution, which the energy of this shy, highly adaptive survivor of a creature brings:
"For you to win, no one must lose."
Leopard travels alone: 
"You will not compromise what you are learning merely to fit into the expectations of others." 

Photographs of the Cederberg, and of the Agama Atra, by Silke Heiss
Leopard photo by Uriel Soberanes

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Totally quiet crows

The crows

Four of them have been cawing
for days now. I don't know
why the word is 'cawing',
because they craah.

I've never heard a crow do anything other than craah -

on different pitches,
at different lengths
and alternating tempos;

but 'caw' is a human invention that can be dropped, when it comes to crows.

All that is neither here nor there, really. But
the pied crows and their craahs
have been dominating 
air space as well as
air waves.

I tell my mother on the phone
that they remind me of her
(she's forever complaining
about her croaky voice)

and she bursts out laughing
and says, "Please greet the crows
from me."

Well, they sit on the roof,
grooming themselves
- I notice they are very curious
about each other's underwings -
and they poop generously,
rudely onto the tiles
from their vantage
on the wifi dish.

It's two big, shaggy ones
and two sleek, younger-looking ones -

are they a family,
invading this suburb
of sunbirds, white-eyes, weavers, mousebirds,
hoopoes, robins, thrushes, bulbuls, gulls,
sacred ibis, hadidah, flycatchers, wagtails, 
nightjars, herons, plovers, doves,
gymnogene and guinea fowl?

Or are they rival pairs
- ragged oldies against a shiny new generation -
craahing, gliding, hopping, hooping,
hoping to talk things through?

One of them does
fly a close hoop over
the older-looking pair,
who turn their necks up with interest,
but do not jump.

Their expressive beaks
and measuring eyes,
their confident shoulders
and charming white bibs,
leave a person guessing.

Since I've beeen writing this,
they are totally

- Silke Heiss, 5th December 2020 

Crow is the totem animal of Sacred Law

"If you look deeply into Crow's eye, you will have found the gateway to the supernatural. Crow knows the unknowable mysteries of creation and is the keeper of all sacred law."

"The law which states that 'all things are born of women' is signified by Crow."

"Human law is not the same as Sacred Law. More so than any other medicine, Crow sees that the physical world and even the spiritual world, as humanity interprets them, are an illusion. There are billions of worlds. There is an infinitude of creatures. Great Spirit is within all."

- from 'Medicine Cards' by Jamie Sams and David Carson, New York: St Martin's Press, 1988, 1999.

Photo: Charles J Sharp

Monday, 30 November 2020

Cows coming home

I've always thought it lovely that cattle and donkeys stood around while Mary was giving birth to Jesus, and that is partly why I chose the image and the accompanying poem of cattle for Give Your Writing The Edge's December cover photo.

As far as I know, there is nowhere in the Bible to corroborate the presence of farm animals at Christ's birth, which is exactly what makes it, in my opinion, likely to have been the case - people shared quarters with domesticated animals during the time, and in the area, in question, so I imagine it was too obvious a part of the scene for either Matthew or Luke to bother to mention it.

Apart from that, during my years in the Eastern Cape, I learned both to smile and scowl at the free-roaming cattle there. These beautifully well-fed, mighty animals - living testament to that ever fertile, river-rich frontier country - can be destructive and unwanted visitors to your garden, even jumping over and annihilating your fences if they are desperate enough, in the winter months or during drought, for water or fresh green.

They are a liability on the roads, including highways, at times. I would not like to count how many of them are inadvertently hit by vehicles at night on unlit country roads.

Notwithstanding the problems and hazards they bring, the free-roaming cattle of the Eastern Cape are exemplars of some of the finest of their kind.

While they are domesticated to tolerate humans, they are not tame. As far as I know, only the Khoi really ever managed to 'tame' their cattle to the extent that they could ride and command them.

Beyond the legendary beauty of the patterns in a Nguni's hide, and their gorgeously crescented horns, their simultaneously shy and up-yours attitude have endeared them to me. As with all creatures, there are some that are particularly intelligent, sensitive, or bold and curious individuals, while others are simply deeply soporific, apparently bored or indifferent, possibly even a little sly.

They have a lot of work to do, digesting all that green they must eat daily to keep their enormous bodies happy. It would be a challenge to imitate the grace, with which they carry their bulk on stilty legs and delicate toes in the way they do.

Cattle in Auckland, on the R345 between Alice and Hogsback, South Africa

Bull in Summerton Drive, Hogsback, South Africa

December cover for Give Your Writing The Edge

Bull pencil sketch by Silke Heiss

Saturday, 28 November 2020

The strange momentum of the unimportant

The gentle memory I referred to in my last blog, so generously conveyed by my niece, is terribly unimportant.

Unimportant in the sense of not carrying a heavy load. It's a light, a delightful memory.

She loved, as a girl, when she visited the coastline I was living at, at the time, to stand at the edge of the sea's reach, letting the waves pull the sand out from under and behind her feet, sinking deeper and deeper in towards her ankles. The sensation would cause her to giggle exultantly.

Her memory is nothing more than that I stood with her in the same joy, with similarly buried feet, in the same, exulted at-oneness with foamy mother ocean playing the same game, over and over, around our toes and soles and bodied spirits.

The others walked on. She could forget about following them - they'd not worry about her, so long as I kept vigil. So we wallowed freely in pure joy.

She says (and I thank her for allowing me to share this): "I'd been standing in the sand with my feet in, and you were always somebody who understood the physical aspect of a relationship with nature, and I'd be standing with my feet in the sand, and I used to giggle, because every time the water would pull away from me it would bring some more of the water with me, and I would laugh, because I would just stand, and my feet would fall deeper and deeper into the water, and I would love that. And you would always stand with me and, like, feel it with me, and enjoy it with me, and everybody would walk away, and they would keep walking down to the restaurant along the beach, but you would always stand with me."

If you are still reading, it probably means you're transported to unimportant, delightful memories of your own. Memories, perhaps, of physical experiences in nature, with someone you love and feel safe with, who shares the joy you're feeling.

Wallow! It's worth it. Such stuff provides direction for the momentum of lighthearted souls.

Photo by Thabang Mokoena on Unsplash

U/7Lboots on the reddit app tells us the science behind the joy.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Stand up, out of the blue

Eight or nine days ago, one of my lovely nieces messaged me out of that place of mystery we intelligently call 'the blue'.

"I hope you are doing well!" she wrote, adding, "I had been possessed by a memory of you recently."

Naturally, I replied to her questions, but I was not going to let niceties get in the way of the real (true-blue) stuff. 

"I would love to know what memory it is that possessed you," I said.

She then sent me a voiceclip with two stories. The first was one I'd as good as forgotten. I thank her for granting me permission to share it on my blog.

She was in Grade 6 - that would have made her roughly 11 years old at the time. She went to a party, safe and supervised and so on. A boy approached her, spoke disrespectfully - "rudely, very rude". He was "disgusting", and also flashed her.

She hit and kicked him, kicked him.

Back home, she told her parents, everything. 

Her father was upset - with: everything. The boy, her, just everything. Her mother was worried about her impulsiveness, the risk she'd taken by her spontaneous, violent self-defence. It was an unresolved issue in the home, and in her self.

A week later, I visited with my family. We were told the story. Apparently - I remember it, now that she's re-told it all - among all the adults present, I got up and went to her in the playroom, where she was watching tv or playing a video game, and I gave her a thumbs-up.

"You did good," I told her, "you gave that boy exactly what he deserved."

I remember feeling that it was important to let her know I trusted and approved of her body's spontaneous response to the disrespect, which had injured her spirit and person.

She said that I was the only person, until that point, completely to support what she had done. Coming from her aunt, it was clear: "It was okay for me to stand up for myself as a girl."

Photo by Sam Schooler on Unsplash

The second memory is gentler. It belongs in a separate blog, which will arrive in time, out of the blue.

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Vitally important

My longest-standing friend
Her husband
My beloved

It crashed hard into the window pane, soft down feathers flew. We rose, alarmed, to see it on the tiles, breathing heavily. Its head, slightly up, laid itself down after a while.
"Not looking good," my friend said.
"But look at that heart," I pointed out.
She agreed: we both saw it pumping relentlessly, lifting the small, green torso up and down, up and down.
None of us dared go near the concussed creature, for fear of shocking him or her the more.
Time went by. Neither did the head lift nor did the heart stop beating.

Under my breath - what a vitally important place that is! - under my breath I asked whether there be guardian angels for birds as small as this, but I did not wait for an answer as I summonsed a guardian angel for this miniscule bloblet of warmth in the universe.
I pulled myself on my knees a little towards him and spoke softly and he blinked.
That gave me hope. "Hope is the thing with feathers / that perches in the soul."
No, I did not think of Emily Dickinson's poem while I was oaring myself towards the tiny being, willing it to know I meant no harm. Dickinson's poem is in my marrow and needs no conscious articulation.

I stroked it once, expecting it to take fright.
It seemed to relax. My friend's husband encouraged me to take it in my hands.
"Just don't let it fly into the house," warned my friend: the bird faced the open door into the house.
The two men stationed themselves in the door to discourage any thought of flight into the house.
I edged in from behind and lifted the bird. Its claws immediately gripped my fingers. A good sign. I stroked and spoke. It blinked, looked, turned its head. Perkily, actually.
My friend stepped outside and the bird pooped.
"That's a positive sign!" we chorused.

"He looks like he'll stay there forever," my friend's husband said.
Yes, the little soul was comfortable, albeit his eyes remained surprised at the shape his heaven seemed to be taking: full of great, featherless entities making strange sounds.

At length, I got up, rested my hands on the balcony railing near a tree and suddenly he fluttered away. Landed on a steep branch, hung on admirably.
I shook the poop off my fingers, it splashed on the tiles.
We went inside.

I was aware how we had left him to himself and to the guardian angel of his life's flame.
When we went out again, he wasn't there.
He'd asked for nothing.
In extremity, he'd given us all his trust.
"Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul, / And sings the tune without the words, / And never stops at all."
Under your breath, in your marrow, in your hands - vitally important places!

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Nothing too heavy

It's the tension between heavy and light.

Tomorrow night, I'm zooming as feature poet for Off The Wall poetry.

Hugh Hodge, who ran the Off The Wall poetry gig in Cape Town for many years, was the first person I remember to point me out publicly to myself, as poet. It was the Cape Town Book Fair 2006. He passed by me, accompanied, as it happened, by Liesl Jobson, whom I'd also never met. He pointed his finger -

"You're a poet," he said, "come and read."

It was a few seconds in my life. A moment like that weighs, because it's so beautifully light: in passing, people who don't know each other, a gesture, a voice. A shape for the future.

My first readings I was so nervous that my body trembled to the extent that I feared people would see my dress shivering off my wobbling bum. I did not know it was possible to read while shivering so. But it is possible. It happened - even while it may be unexplained that my voice did not falter at all.

I've gone through intense soul torment, be-thinking the reading tomorrow ... that is to say: I've more than a thousand poems to choose from. Where, how to begin, how to nose the spoor that will find just the right track?

I've decided I'll read the poem about my nose, the sense of smell. And the one about the ear, which prefigures it. I'll read them chronologically, as they came to me in a simple, wide-eyed living of life.

How will it go down? How many people will tune in? The hopeful poet from Ecuador, who contacted me at the Frankfurt Book Fair - will she make it? Will she read?

I am happy. The tick of the kitchen clock steps me on to tomorrow. Beside me, at the table, Jacaranda root tortoises are being painted by my beloved, his concentrated breathing is audible on my right; the high whizz of his laptop hums on my left. It's domestic chaos: contained within an overall picture of peace - notwithstanding the so-called news across the Atlantic, which so many are busy with right now.

I've selected from 40 years of continuous work. Nothing too heavy. I'd like to leave my listeners feeling hopeful about being alive on our precious little planet.

List of titles for tomorrow night

The Snake's Song was published in New Contrast

Lines of our Days and The Loving Body were published in New Coin


Tuesday, 3 November 2020

The fragrant ground and I

If you want to live happily ever after - and whatever place or realm (on or off earth) you finally (or not so finally) end up in, presumably you do want that - it is a good idea to stop at times, turn around and take in the view presented by your life thus far.

I bet you it's an amazing landscape, which you may be glad not to have to traipse through again, but which you're justifiably really proud of having got through. I mean: look at those cliffs of conflict between yourself and others; curious wetlands, alternating with high-lying plateaux, of love, relationships and friendships; deserts and forests you survived of classes, courses, exams, jobs, all kinds of duties; rapids of ill-health; oceans of grief; lakes and waterfalls of indolence and fun; fruiting orchards of joy ...

If you keep looking, you'll be bragging before long about all your adventures and tests of endurance and how often you definitely had enough, but, somehow, here you still are. So claim your title: top topographer, flagbearer, first explorer! Which you are: since none of us have ANY competition when it comes to our own life paths. We're once-offs, forever.

Each month I create a new cover for my Facebook Page, Give Your Writing The Edge, whereby I aim to project a concern or feel for the weeks ahead. Often, I allow my choice to be intuitive, but this month, both the picture as well as the poetry were a leap into the unknown as never before. I chose two poems, separated by more than 35 years (which is currently 63% of my life) - poems, which speak mysteries to one another.

I authored it, and can recite it on the spot, but I have never understood the first poem, Dog. However, a dear old friend, who has always favoured it, reminded me of it recently. Not only did that inspire the second poem, but also a new curiosity: what on earth (on earth indeed) was the language doing with me? 

I aproach the poem like any reader, tip-toeing carefully towards possible meanings. 

The houndedness of the faceless, fallen rose connects it, of course, to the dog - who doesn't even dig, so opposed is it: it "nibbles (nibbles!) own spaces in the ground" where nothing is wanted. The scene is tragic, a picture of perfect disempowerment, an apparently necessary secreting away of natural is-ness. The treasured symbol of love is nothing but an old bone.

The second poem launches on that connection between the rose and the bone and it turns out that not only has the flower survived, but it has multiplied subterraneously over three and a half decades. 

"in the ground" becomes, in Dog 2, 'under the skin', deep inside the tissues: the identification of rose and bone has built a structure, which not only has an I, but an unopposed, fearless, fragrant (!) inner body that can speak and declare its old ("after all these years") aliveness.

Whence comes this sudden up out of the adult marrow?

Certainly the identification between the "ground" (where roses and bones are buried) and the "I" (where years and sorrow have been buried) is a powerful place to begin. And end.

Photo: Detail from a picture I took of my potted peace rose. 

Sunday, 25 October 2020


I reflected last week on the sacred nature of words, and related this to the language of the heart - that is to say, to that organ, which essentially wants as many happy feelings as can be packed into its lifetime.

Inasmuch as it is associated with consecration, the word 'sacred' is loaded with reverence, which can be risky to joy. If there is an excess of respect, barriers of fear pop up like so many mean little picket fences everywhere, and intelligently happy feelings flee forthwith. 

Of all the instruments we have at our disposal to create happy feelings, language is surely one that immediately takes pride of place. Peruse, for example, these acrobatics from one of the most beautiful clowns the English language ever had - 

"In the beginning God created heaven and earth with, it would appear, Irish labour. It took the Lord six days, and on the seventh he rested, during which time speculative builders put up Kilburn. Kilburn High Street runs three miles, that's why it looks 'shagged out'. A walk through Kilburn has left an indelible blank on my mind. The British, it is said, are made up of four races, the best of these are the Derby and the Oaks.
Kilburn was a melting pot, occasionally stirred by the National Front, an extreme political organisation whose election manifesto was 'I'll punch yer fuckin' 'ead in'. The leaders were any of them that could count up to ten without having to sit down." - from 'The Looney' by Spike Milligan

It just keeps getting hilariouser and hilariouser - so, yes: you'll have to get the book.

My point is that there is room in heaven for the Jabberwocky and all the hobbits' riddles, and even the worst limericks (okay, those might be kept under celestial shadecloth, just in case).

Whenever Christ appears to me, He does so playfully, dancingly, full of youthful sparkle, definitely bringing undiluted happy feelings. (Speaking for myself, I've had to admit that my heart simply can't cope with the crucifixion. I am one of those 'sensitive viewers' who only manage repeatedly to weep over that horror story.) 

Yes, language is sacred, but it is not nailed to a cross. It is free to dance and sing all manner of paths it finds to please human hearts in uncountable ways.

Sure, it can be misled. A writer or speaker can be enticed up all kinds of garden paths, including those in Gethsemane. But that is likely to be the subject of another blog. For now, consider yourselves ushered. Towards reading whatever gives your heart real joy.