for John Berger
Remember we walked through the smoke with our pots and jugs and pails over ground turned to ash. We sought out the gouts of flame poured the water in a boil of grey steam and the burnt gauze of the dead.
Remember how pails empty we returned to the stream. Our skin was painted in cremation streaked with charcoal. We soaked our feet in the cold flow the soles blistered. The water was the colour of bloodless flesh.
Remember the flames laddering up the bark of the cedars. We scraped them away with sticks they sprang back after each stroke. Our thin sandals pressed into the soft ash the floor of the world gone rotten. On the ridgeline a pine consumed in a crackling blaze a single great torch.
Smoke rose from the soil where the tree roots smoldered. We passed through the haze to fill our pots from the silted stream lay down in it the current brushing fingers through our hair. The sky was bad milk.
Remember the day before the plane flew over. The next day the fire. Some of us thought it’s our fault we didn’t look. Some thought fuck you fuck you fuck you. Others were in grief like a baby bird fallen into their chests flapping unformed wings.
The light left suddenly at dusk. We made our way back to camp in the dark feeling with our burnt feet the familiar paths. Willow thicket meadow dry needles of mountain hemlock. Remember the green scent of herbs – wild onion trillium lovage waterleaf. Muted birdcalls over the shushing stream.
There was the small fire at the heart of the camp in a grove of firs. We had to keep it burning if we were going to eat. Remember the vague glow against the still trunks. The coals settling sparks skating the darkness.
Remember the moist wind off the meadows. The mating frogs giving their cries. Another tree erupting in ravenous light.
We ate roasted roots and boiled grain and looked into the fire. Food blank on our tongues. Images in the decaying coals. Stories. Remember someone spoke them as now. Remember someone looked out into the dark full of living trees.
No starlight nor moon. We lifted our pots from the black earth. An owl spoke in the throat of the valley. The woods on the ridge were gutshot with flame.
Last night I dreamed a crow landed on my hand and looked into my eyes. I still feel its claws.
– Neale Inglenook
We stand upright in the current, remain free of leaves without branch or trunk, beneath mirrors of water we wave, not sparse but amassed, sequins sprout from our main blades.
Our foliage is corrugated, our borders ruched. We are gelatinous. We are brown, in dim light we look black and on land, shellacked, sugared with purple.
We are gymnastically inclined, arise from stems, rapidly bear leaves that finger and fork. We crosshatch the sea, are latticed beings, we tolerate and close up and in, we are mild towards those that know us and leave us unharmed.
Dampen us, we have floats, we are accommodating by nature, we watch things happen, don’t intervene, we let be, we adapt, we can develop, this time is our time, this water our water. We follow the waves, are opportunists, we endure silt, penetrating rays of light, acidification and the air that dehydrates us at low tide.
We anchor ourselves to rocks, mark the coast, regulate the impact of the waves, swirling we advance unhurried, we unfurl, grow in breadth so that our crowns bathe in light. We propel the sea, releasing green weeds like salad leaves and hushing the red weeds that are afraid of the sun. We are a salty universe, an inverted wood.
We are perennials. We multiply, can count and measure, jellyfish planulae and polyps depend on us, we help reduce weight now that people are heavier, we keep airways free, we remove dental plaque and the remains of tumours.
Yet greedy ships beleaguer us, nets tangle up in us, people pulverise, crush and bite into us, but electric rays still seek their prey in us, flying fish and abalone shelter in us and clownfish live in us.
Let our seas flow calm and cool, we grow brittle on land or become submerged, we want to sway, are unperturbable, we are legion.
– Miek Zwamborn
Translated by Michele Hutchison
MAIN IMAGE; Seaweeds by Miek Swamborn
Laminaria digitata and Saccharina latissima
Bistre on paper
After beachcombing I see the silhouettes of the algae spread on the sand projected on the inside of my eyelids at night before I fall asleep: green and red, brighter than in reality. The seaweed floats freely inside my head, tumbling like bright costumed acrobats in brain fluid.