Tell yourself a new story

Tell yourself a new story
One that does not begin with shame
Or the erroneous notion of being born broken
That your very existence is flawed
In need of redemption
Or that life is a rehearsal
In pursuit of eternal reward
A promise of future paradise
Bought with death and destruction
And the oppression of curiosity
 
Tell yourself a new story
Snatched from the tree of knowledge
Dripping with ripening fruit
Rich with possibility
 
A story that revels in the glorious
Imperfections of life’s experimental creations
That hints of the wonder of being alive
Here in this moment
 
Just for a moment
 
Shaped from the very matter of the universe
Filled with curiosity and second chances
And the capacity to contemplate
Art and music and love
And the whims of fate.
 
Tell yourself a story of insignificance
For indeed small you are

A momentary fragment of the universe
A tiny thread of life’s vibrant tapestry  
As inconsequential as a fruit fly
As influential as the wings of a butterfly
 
Particles of the universe
Arranged just so,
Perfectly, uniquely you
Intimately connected to everything
 
Alive
Awake
Aware
Curious
 
With the chance to explore
Discover
Feel the heartbeat of a lover
The cold brisk air on the slopes of a snow-covered mountain
The touch of sun on your upturned face
The touch of kindness
The thrill of desire
The ache of longing  
The warm embrace of love
 
A moment in which
To smile
To hope
To dream
To create
To listen
To learn
To love
To care
 
To spread the wings of your mind
And take flight
In the marvellously magical possibilities
Of conscious life.

Sharlene Zeederberg - July, 2020
Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash
 
 
 
 

The Silver Fox

The old silver fox laid down his head
Burrowed down and took one last breath
Before falling into an eternal slumber,
The peaceful sleep of the dead.

They gathered around his fallen form
And crying a river of tears, told his life stories  
Which fell like rain on to the place where he lay
Beneath the full moon
One Tuesday in June. 

And the earth turned still
Made its way, 
Its inexorable, ceaseless way
Around the sun
The circuit of life 
Tracing patterns of stars in the night sky  
Moving to the tempo of the seasons 

From the tear soaked ground 
Arose a tangle of verdant growth
A soft bed of grass
Bedecked with bright flowers  
Beneath the sprouting shoots of saplings
And the hum of honey bees

But every year in June
They gather by the light of the moon 
On the glistening beach where the silver fox used to prowl
With his rough growl and his big scarred heart
To remember him

They gather in the shadow of the trees
On the edge of the sea
Now thick and tall with age
Lush with the sound of birds 
Awake with the rustle of life

And they share new stories
Seeded in the past 
Connected in their beginnings
Now expanded, grown 
Stretched out in a myriad of glorious directions

Their laughter rings into the night
Reverberates amongst the trees
And deep in the woods
A wispy silver shadow
Slips through the night
Content with his legacy.
Sharlene Zeederberg, revised June 2020 - In memory of my father, Terry Weedman.

Hopelessness

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash
Prejudices rule the world
Black and White
Always fight
Arab versus Jew
And "we're better than you."
A little boy with big, brown eyes
His hands raised
Germans praised
The Korean girl screams
The American dreams
Humanity perverted
Hope deserted.
Hide your face in shame
Dreams in vein
An evil reign
Cry my child cry
For the love lost
In the deepening night
Oh god,
Where is the light?

(Sharlene Zeederberg, August, 1990)

The Rituals of our Remembering

In the shadow of Autumn
In the season that invites retreat
With red leaves shed like tears
To pool beneath
The ages old arms
Of ages old trees
We light a candle
 
We light a candle for you
Who loved the flickering promise
That dances in the flame’s orange-blue heart
 
We light a candle to remember you
And the long winding past of all the mothers who came before
Present in every cell of our children
And their ancestors to come
Connected across the seasoned rhythm of time
 
In the rituals of our remembering
We light a candle
A touchstone to the natural order of things
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
But for a moment
Bright, alight, full of life
Dancing against the inevitable darkness of the night

Sharlene Zeederberg, in memory of Jenny.
(Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash)

The Roads we Travel

This is the road
The yellow brick road
The highway road
The speedy road
The road down which we run
Towards the mirage of some future self
The self we would become
 
This is the road
The barren road
The straight and narrow road
The road that leads us on
To the walled city of our ambition
To the place where we belong
 
This the road down which we march
With heavy hearts 
And a purposeful, determined air
Awareness fixed solidly on the horizon
And the promises lingering there
 
This is the road on which we gamble
Every breath of life
Eyes on the prize,
Desperate to arrive
To shout with triumphant decree
I am here
Let me in
I am here
Let my life begin
 
This is the road 
To the distant land of hopes and dreams
The land of tomorrow’s imaginings
 
Did you trip, did you fall?
Did you wonder at the emptiness of it all?
Or did you stop and hear nature call?
And in the silent stillness see
At last
The criss-crossed tracks
Of opportunity
Lightly pressed into the fabric of the universe
Inviting traces to unknown places
As faint as smoke
As revealing as curiosity
 
Did you suddenly awake to find
That is not the only road for your mind
That is not the only way
To traverse life
To move from yesterday to tomorrow
To deal with all her inbuilt joy and sorrow
 
There are other pathways to explore
Other ways to think and be and more
Other ways to find yourself
Not at the centre of it all
Not at the centre at all.
 
Here the narrow path
Turns sandy underfoot  
Washed fresh by the prana of the sea
The pulsing beginning of you and me
Eons older than our collective memory
 
There the steep incline to breathless mountain tops
That almost touch the sky
Reward the explorer with a vista
Full of galaxies that stretch beyond the breadth of human time
Yet fill the human eye
 
And here and there
And everywhere
The moss-covered lanes that stumble into the silence of forests
Where the whispers of ancient contemplation
Echo in your footsteps  
And every breath you take connects you
with the beginning and end of time,
And every breath taken in between
By every living thing
Of which you are merely one moment
In an endless stream

Sharlene Zeederberg - Covid Poems (2020)
 
 
 
 

Thought Rising

I am nebulous
A fistful of dreams
As wispy as air
Rising like steam
 
I am the salt
On a sea breeze
Cascading over rocks
With thunderous ease
 
I hover in the sound
of crickets at night
Linger in the palette  
of day’s ending light
 
I rise on the roar
of a lion newly sated
And rest in the soporific stupor
Of the recently mated
 
I am distraction, obsession,
blandness
Purpose, possession,
The seeds of madness
 
I am passion and boredom entangled
A stream of consciousness chaotically mangled
I am the focus that comes from a scream
And the hazy contemplation of last night’s dream
And laundry and bills and self-esteem
 
I am the tip, the edge, the whole
The all, the nothing
The gentle unfolds
Of tomorrow
 
I am the fuel that keeps
Curiosity burning
Anxiety curdling
Dreams unfurling
 
I am thought
Rising unbidden.
 

The Birds Still Sing

In the dappled shadows
Beneath the leaves of
Mangrove trees that breathe in
Sunlight and saltwater
I walk
And slow my breath
 
And in the stillness
Of that moment
Against the silver gleam of green
Grass shimmering 
Wet with morning dew
I hear the birds sing
 
A hundred different sounds fill the sky
Whistles and twitters
Warbles and chitters
A wondrous symphony
swoops and swirls
And falls like gentle rain
Onto my ears
Tuned away from chaotic fears
 
There is a rose
That captures my eye
A red blossom cupped to the sky
The gentle scent, I suppose,
Reminds me of the papery skin
Of my grandmother
On a farm
In the middle of long ago
With her pantry stocked for months on end
And a garden of vegetables to tend
And a shelf full of homemade biscuits
 
History is recorded in the past
But lived in the present
Or in the imagined days of tomorrow
But come back now, here to now
For the birds still sing
And the grass is still green
And red roses still turn their heads to the sun
And today’s script is yet to be written

Just a bit discombobulated!

If ever there was a time to use the word discombobulated, this is it. It’s been a long and unsettling summer but just as the air clears from the ravaging bush fires and Autumn touches her umber paint brush to the leaves on the trees, we find ourselves, yet again, in a surreal world for which we have no experience.

Life has changed dramatically, but also looks remarkably the same. The sun still shines, the grass is still green, buildings stand and there are people and busses and work to be done and bills to be paid. And yet, we suddenly find ourselves in a world where an invisible foe has thrown our daily rhythms and patterns into complete disarray. 

Perhaps most starkly, we are being asked to forego something that is intrinsic to our nature – social contact.  Jazz hands have replaced handshakes for now but perhaps we might soon find ourselves confined to onscreen conversations and WhatsApp Wine time. Social distancing is difficult because it is foreign, and as a result uncomfortable. We like gathering in groups – park runs, church services, footy games, the theatre and on and on. So much of our life is built around connecting to others, and so much of our wellbeing comes from being in community with others. To have this disrupted leaves us confused and clearly in a state of panic.

I think a lot of (my) anxiety comes from endlessly anticipating possible outcomes. Will someone in my family get sick, will we run out of toilet paper, will we go into lock down, will the schools close? We have so much access to information, but it’s hard to separate out the facts from the fear and general nonsense – and we tend to trust anecdotes and advice from friends and family more than our leaders. This pandemic situation is inherently uncertain. The lack of control, and perhaps general distrust in the system, creates a sense panic. Panic takes on a life of its own, seemingly unstoppable, as the nation gears up for an anticipated “lock down” (that has yet to be flagged as appropriate). Social contagion and mob behaviour interest me but being in the middle of all those empty shelves is scary.

Lock down? Even that phrase sounds ridiculous. As if we’ve been thrust into a dystopian novel. Just watching Years and Years was unsettling, and this has some of the same feels. Perhaps that is the thing – we’ve only really experienced this type of thing vicariously, on the screen or in history books. It feels familiar, but only at a safe distance – one you can leave behind and head into a coffee shop to recalibrate from.  

But of course this is not a dystopia. It is a situation that requires an unprecedented response, one of which we are capable. For once, the enemy is not our fellow humans, but one that we can jointly fight together. We have a strong health care system, largely intelligent leaders and a plan of attack. We are a stoic nation of fair minded people, most of whom will call for calm and kindness, and not resort to violence over toilet paper. The sun will come up tomorrow, and at some point, life will return to some semblance of the ordinary.

I lurch towards anxiety in the daily course of normal life. In an effort to maintain some sanity and keep my mind still, I am practicing being present: being in the moment and interrogating it for joy. I am tending to the garden of my own mind, and trying to clear it of the weeds of fear that could so easily take hold.

Yesterday I bought a plant, admired the beauty of the setting sun and enjoyed sparring with my kids over the dinner table. Today I walked the dog in the silver dewy stillness of morning and listened to the birdsong that continues unabated in the blue sky of today. This crisis will pass but focusing all our energy on hanging in there and just waiting for it to end also feels like a waste of precious time. Life goes on, whether the road is in shadow or the light.

Perhaps this is a lesson for life in general?  Although we feel most comfortable moving purposefully forward, meaning is found in the moments we have and the perspective we take within them. Despite the upheaval of our best laid plans, there is still beauty in the world to bask in, avenues for our curiosity and space for reflecting. Perhaps the gift of these torrid times is a reminder to slow down and enjoy what we have, when we have it, rather than always focussing so intently on the future.

Then I breathe

When anxiety comes upon me
Like a fluttering little bird
Wings beating against the cage of my chest
 
Then I breathe
 
I breathe the calming breath of nature’s forever connection
From the stars that birth the building blocks of us
To the leaves that sway in the breeze
 
I breathe into the space between things
The space between the you and the me
The space between the me and the trees
The space between the womb and the grave
And all the things we perceive
As separate.
 
And nature breathes with me
She ripples in the wind
The invisible wind
That caresses your skin
And the curve of my cheek
As we watch the waves rise and recede
Standing on the beach made from a thousand yesterdays

Bridging the boundary
That is but an illusion
Of time
And ego
And perception
 
I breathe into the space of invisible connection
I breathe away the illusion of the space between
I breathe stillness into the fluttering wings of the shuddering bird
Caught in the cavity of my chest.
 
 Sharlene Zeederberg, Feb 2020

The Call of the Cape

Cape Town has always held a special place in my heart. It was the place where I first tasted independence, that somewhat scary but ultimately rewarding experience that comes when you have the freedom for self-discovery. As my university town, I grew up, figuratively anyway, in the shadow of Table Mountain. Having not been back for 15 years, I was determined to squeeze it in to our South Africa travel plans somehow, and it was well worth it. Although we only had three days there, we jammed it full of highlights, caught up with friends and family and indulged in both the nightlife and the spectacular natural beauty of the land.

We arrive at dusk. Cape Town is settling into its evening jewels as we make our descent. The omnipresent mountain, with its craggy sides and the flat top that gives it its name, is a darkening backdrop to this illuminated water-side city. In the western sky, the sun has set into the ocean, and the horizon is a smouldering palette of pinks, oranges and greys. It’s beautiful, even from on high.

Like many places in South Africa, Cape Town is a town of stark contrasts. There is natural beauty in abundance, a lively food scene and enough historical attractions to keep even the most ardent student of history happy but there is also poverty and desperation, and the traffic is horrendous. You can skim the surface here – enjoying the bars and beaches, wines and African crafts, and we mostly do. But, you can also scratch below the glittering façade and see what everyday life looks like for its varied population. Our social activist teen pushed us in that direction and by moving out of our comfort zone we gained a richer and more rounded experience of the town.

To start though, we visit the magnificent Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, nestled at the eastern base of the Table Mountain. It is spring and the gardens burst with colour. Pretty streams and old baths, an ancient cycad forest and the tree canopy walkway occupy our time and attention. Various sculptures dot the landscape and the sound of laughing children on school excursions float in the air that feels fresh and full of optimism.

We are drawn, of course, to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, a pivotal attraction point in Cape Town. We sit in the sunshine against the backdrop of Table Mountain, eating lunch and listening to live music – a four-man percussion and rhythm ensemble playing an upbeat tune on xylophones and drums. It feels uniquely African, and joyful. Here we explore the wonderful arts and crafts markets and shop up big to bring a piece of Africa home with us.

The Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Arts – Africa) grabs our attention and inspires more than a little awe. The building itself is spectacular –  a mesmorising architectural feat that transformed soaring old concrete grain towers into a space that is full of light and sound. Looking back, I have a sense of floating in the space.  The main exhibition is a showcase of William Kentridge, a prolific artist whose underlying political commentary is unsettling. (He did much of it during the apartheid years, calling out the absurdity and cruelty of this horrific political regime).

In stark contrast to all of this, we visit Imizamo Yethu – an “informal settlement” directly across the road from one of the richest suburbs in Cape Town – Hout Bay. Here, crammed into a small space on the side of the mountain, we pick our way through narrow muddy pathways that wind through what are primarily ramshackle tin shacks crowded together, like birds huddling in the wind. Our guide explains that people create their houses from whatever bits of materials are to hand, presumably putting them up wherever there is an available shard of space. Residents share inadequate sanitation supplies, and cold water taps provide hydration and washing opportunities. We are welcomed into homes that shine with care and hope despite the dire circumstances these poor people have been born into. The view from the township is one of space and luscious green grass, for across the road the horses of the rich stand in wide spacious paddocks, complete with stables that offer more comfort and luxury most people here have. No wonder people get cross.

My favourite part of this tour is a visit to the pre-school. The kids are exuberant and lively, with smiles that glow from lips to eyes. They demand our hands to play jumping games, and spontaneously deliver hugs and high fives. The number of children crammed into this small space would give Australian regulators nightmares, but there is no doubting the passion of the teachers and staff as they care for their high-spirited charges.

As in all communities, even one that is demonstrably poor, there are people who are doing better than others. The pub is thriving and the local internet café boasts a steady stream of business. Dogs roam the street and neighbours call out to each other. Some people are lucky enough to have traditional houses – made of bricks, with proper front doors (apparently the work of an Irish charity). The local church provides succour, handing out care packages from charities and showcasing some of the local arts and crafts. I spend big as a way to give back. At the end of the tour our guide thanks us for our bravery… they are words that floor me.

Cape Town itself, the city centre, is vibrant and full of life. Business is booming and the streets burst with people going about their business. But, lulled perhaps into a false sense of security, we nearly get mugged while standing outside the main train station looking somewhat confused and cashed up. Years ago, a taxi driver taking us to a similar place in Rosario, Argentina gave us a stern warning. “Cuidado, cuidado” he said, making a strange wavy movement with his hand. Watch out. Beware. Crooks about. So, it’s a lesson we know from old – in places with rampant income inequality, you need a bit of cuidado about you, especially at train stations. The intervening years of suburban complacency have clearly dulled our travel-senses. I ward off the “aggressive beggars” with the large painting I had purchased at Green Market Square earlier in the day.

The night life in Cape Town doesn’t disappoint. We bar and restaurant hop through the heart of the city which teams with life.  The Gin Bar – a light and airy space with a wide selection of gin-cocktails; The Commissary – an intimate, low lit restaurant above a graffiti covered stair well serving excellent food and great wine; The Shortmarket Club – somewhat more sophisticated and high end for dessert. Through it all we felt safe and sated.

To round off the trip, we hike up Table Mountain. Yes, you can take the cable car or walk up easier pathways that wind step-like around the back of the mountain. But in the company of a local, who may well be part dassie, we opt for a frontal assault. Despite dire warnings of steep rock climbing and difficult navigation, our friend shrugs. He runs up here, apparently, and perhaps he is telling the truth because on our 4-hour climb we pass people doing exactly that. Still, there were some hairy moments for a little soul like me who is a tiny bit afraid of heights. Chains had to be used and there was some tentative shuffling across a narrow ledge to reach the end. But we made it and were rewarded with a spectacular view of the city so ripe with hope – if only more could be done to provide willing people with economic opportunity.

On the way home we stop at UCT – our old uni campus – and sit on Jamie stairs and reminisce about those long ago days of heady freedom, with just a few assignments, a part time job and exams to cope with. What a privilege it was to have attended this beautiful campus and what a gift it was to make life-long friends who still travel with us along this journey we call life.