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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Harry Owen

An Intimacy of Scorched Earth

Hoopoe, this striking African monarch, flicks his chestnut wings

up from the lawn’s parched straw and departs; an olive thrush bounces

through the sour orange’s discarded leaf litter; but my pen

hardly cares to record such things, so alien is cool air.


After last night’s rain, the first for months, here’s a green tumescence,

a straightening of the world’s shoulders, an audible gasping,

momentary pause. Resuscitation, no doubt, however brief.

No fire, no persecution, no hungry flame. Not yet, not yet.


I lie down, face and nose rough upon the soil’s prickling stubble,

attracted by its itching rooted musk of personage, sun

sneaking through the clouds, hot on my shirt, and I wish this marriage

of dry earth and sky every success, a match struck in heaven.


But, for now, their arduous relationship speaks of neglect,

pain, punishment, of cruel abuse, though they can’t separate,

no question of divorce. How far they have journeyed together!

Nothing will ever change except the weather. Nowhere to go.


And suffering’s part of the deal, ain’t it? Love so commonly sears.

Submit now, pet, behave: do as you’re told. Give it all you’ve got.


An unlubricated drongo rasps, rattles in the fig tree

amid flurries of early leaf-fall. The hoopoe has vanished.


Shirtless for once, because the sun is switched off,

he steps outside. Something growls as if warning him away

but that’s all it is; no imminent attack.


There may, or may not, be a storm. Probably not,

he thinks, but the air’s hot, dense, a touch fanatical,

and its burgeoning fever needs to break soon.


Still high summer, but the trees believe it’s autumn,

sacrificial leaves falling to crisp brown drifts in the dust.

Their world sags, kneels for pardon, reprieve. Or the axe.


Endurance is the only virtue left. Where are those frogs

that bake themselves for years in Kalahari sand,

dreaming of that sacred kiss of rain, of resurrection


when all the sleeping beauties awaken? He is no prince

but knows it will happen, it must come. Just hold on.

Just hold on.


Originally from Liverpool, England, Harry Owen moved to South Africa’s Eastern Cape in 2008. Outspoken in his commitment to the natural world and to social equity, as well as a passionate advocate of poetry, he is the author of seven collections, the latest being The Cull: new and resurrected poems (Poets Printery, East London, South Africa, 2017). He has edited three anthologies with the same publisher – I Write Who I Am: an anthology of Upstart poetry (2011);  For Rhino in a Shrinking World: an international anthology (2013); and (forthcoming in 2019) Coming Home: poetry of the Grahamstown diaspora. Harry hosts the popular monthly open floor event called Reddits Poetry in Grahamstown, where he lives, and writes a poetry column called Poetic Licence for Grocott’s Mail, South Africa’s oldest independent weekly newspaper.

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