Christine Coates


Rivers and stars fill the valley – a hymn some days
I write to elephants the colour of stone
Sage green olive trees – sharp points push a hymn some days.
My heart no longer beats rough and ready
I am in it – a hymn someday.

Christina Coates

Childhood Garden – a paradelle

Cracked birdbath – enough water for a canary –
cracked birdbath – enough water for a canary –
sandstone steps laid sixty years ago,
sandstone steps laid sixty years ago,
cracked years – enough for sixty steps
laid a sandstone canary ago – birdbath water.

Seeds of sycamore – little wings –
seeds of sycamore – little wings –
hydrangea heads in colours of rusty pink,
hydrangea heads in colours of rusty pink;
little rusty wings, heads of hydrangeas,
of sycamore seeds, a pink colour.

Green lichen on a dead branch,
green lichen on a dead branch,
leather-brown leaf falls to ground,
leather-brown leaf falls to ground,
leather branch, dead, falls to ground
a green leaf – on lichen brown

Enough years fall cracked – little leather wings –
of sandstone, sycamore seeds,
a brown branch for leaf and lichen,
a canary – the colour pink –
of birdbath, green water, dead hydrangea heads –
sixty steps laid on rusty ground.

Christina Coates

Summer Drought – a Drabble

The cracked birdbath held little water. She wondered who filled it, or was it rain. The chaffinches couldn’t fly for the thirst of summer. How had they survived two hundred years? Rhodes missed English songbirds – only chaffinches survived. How did anything endure without help – the sycamores, the oaks? Her own garden? The neighbour taps water from his borehole, but her garden is a tinderbox. Now he wants her help. When he removed his hedge he saw her spring garden – the leucadendrons, the buddleias. He’s agreed to share his water. In return she will offer him plants and cut his grass.

Christine Coates

Surprised by love     


I’ve learned to love the sunrise – I used to sleep
long into the morning –
growing pains, childhood seemed so hard
to get up for school, to study early for exams
the frost still white on the lawn
the milk cart delivering milk and orange juice –
vitamin C in icy winter, the Western Transvaal
so cold the water froze – long icicles
from the garden tap, the bedroom windows all misted up –
I could blow a hole into it to see outside –
the dog’s paw marks as they tracked over the grass
his yellow piss a steaming puddle near the willow tree.
I’ve learned to love the night –
dark velvet sky, stars like holes punched into a blanket –
although some nights were frightening when my parents fought
their battles at the other end of the house.
I woke and held my breath – the shouting subsided
and then I heard the sound of my mother
feeling her way along the dark passage –
her hand dragging the wall. I still hear that sound some nights –
even though it’s over forty years ago.
I’ve learned to love the ocean – yet I lived
a thousand miles away and I only saw it once
a year – a seaside holiday in the Eastern Cape
and like an English child I had a net and a sunbonnet
and ate rock candy. I think I married
my husband because he lived by the ocean
and now we walk on the beach
every day – whales blow. We take our dogs
to Sunrise beach  sometimes at sunset.
The moon rises there too –
I never knew I loved sunrise.

Christina Coates

Early Spring

First standing still on a
day dancing, prancing, pretty – a tale
of falling flowers, fluttering.
Spring sprung –
I find a dandy lion, a daffodil;
keep it close, safe, a secret snowdrop.
Thinking of kings and queens – and I’m quiet
about the hidden hoekkie high in
the top of the garden – lost in the
end of never. The ever-never memory
of flowers – of those first spring days now
autumn is almost all about left of my life.

Christina Coates

My feet are the ground;
decades of here
like the elephant.
I am about to be the person who,
leaving my shadow, the storms of the past,
is home at her feet.
A plateau of pain –
here is where I need to make,
alongside this forest,

The elephant sees what I am doing;
the herd of her eye
watching me.
She listens forever
to what I want.
Leaving my shadow,
coming through the storm,
the bird shows its face;
life awaits an island.

I hasten to heights
I have longed for.
Healed now I am still,
my body, my cells renewing
my life – a quiet place.
The big storm is out.

Coming through,
I walk across the years,
the storms of my life.
I came to my marriage,
I find it, waiting
for the place to reveal itself.
I am home. It is a place
of thirty years
and I am surrounded by
the brink of hounds
and birds beautiful.
Stepping into it means
rewiring the elephant,
to be under her reorganizing eye.

I’m washed up on this garden
years after I had shipwrecked.
I wait;
I am a plant.
I shake myself, the soil has settled.
I am rewired for the process – to go
The thunder is over.
The sky is singing.

Christina Coates

pewter angel

It’s 5.30 am and I’m in the Gardens and there is a pewter angel sticking out of my mouth. It’s like she’s a fekking emblem on the front of a car or on the bow of a ship. Words, ideas explode in my head because I just can’t get them past her – she’s taken up residence, the bitch. I can’t say a thing. People stop and stare at me walking here in the Gardens – it is like I’m a bloody Rolls Royce or something. “That’s beautiful,” an old woman says and stops to reach to and touch it, I want to say, “Fuck off! Leave me alone!” but I can’t so I stare at her – stare daggers at her eyes until she says, “I’m sorry. I beg your pardon,” and slinks off. I’m walking around the tall pear tree – it’s Van Riebeeck’s blasted pear tree. Lightening should strike it down properly next time. A boy points at me and stares. I hiss – that’s a relief. I can make a sound even though I sound like a snake. He skittles off to his mother. “Mommy’s boy,” I hiss after him.

My heart is cleft in two. Half of it lies on the gravel at my feet. A trail of blood, like a string, pearls its way to me and everyone can see it’s my fault. I don’t know how I did it but I’m guilty as hell. There’s blood on my hands. People cluster around, One points at me and I hiss, steam escapes my nostrils. It’s a pressure release. He fucking left me and now it’s all my fault. My blood is what’s on my hands and I can’t even tell them what happened.

A policeman is coming – he parts the crowd like he’s fucking Moses. His arms are stiff wings and he takes hold of my arm making as if to lead me away but I buck like a fekkin bronco and he misses. He shouts into his walkie-talkie thing. Don’t they have cell phones these bastard cops? It’s the bloody 21st century! I wish I could scream that idea to him but my mouth is full of angel and it’s hurting my teeth, teeth I wonder about them. Would they have survived? I had nice teeth – the one nice thing about me and my sister was jealous. Her teeth were like bad mielie pits. But here’s the hero Moses again parting the waves and it’s fucking Joshua with him, they’ve brought their chariot and I suppose they will take me to fucking heaven now.

Christina Coates


He envied the world –

the world and the eternal earth .

I carried a pebble
in my pocket –
a keepsake for you.

My word, a small grain,
a granule in my hand.
Language and rhymes were
a way to sustain you.

It was a long voyage –
my breath the tides
looking for you
down a dead-end street.
I look – a mere eye
just eyes looking past.

I thought I heard
a quiet laugh
but it was just an echo
of emptiness.

You never found us –
the place
or the moment
like a wave.

Christina Coates

Dog Days

The family dogs are all dead,
echoes of children abound.
I count the spots, sigh my longing.
They are a constellation dotted
with love. My empty ears insist on sound
but there are only echoes, the window rusting.

The wind on dog days, the small familiar pain,
a head beneath my hand,
tongues and smiles ever panting
open up my lonely land.
But the echoes remain
of loss, my memories shifting,

blueing the day bereft;
phantoms now on the right, on the left.

Christina Coates

He windows to me – I get the message quickly and look out far away to the distant mountains. They are clear. They cut a purple silhouette into the sky. I wonder how the day can be so crystal after the heat of the past week – then I remember it rained just last night. During the night.

I remain staring out across the sea and into the distance waiting for a signal that I can stop. A flock of cormorants – long lines fly across my sight roading it into black lines to hang notes of music by. I begin to hear the tune of the birds – a crochet here and quaver there. Black Mist – a searing and beautiful symphony. They are gathering in the autumn warmth, circling ever thicker until they night the sea ahead of me, a dark swirling mass hovering above on the surface of blue, some landing softly. A night symphony against a blue autumn sky.

Tiaan comes over. I am lost by the music before my eyes and have forgotten him and the meeting with Raubie but Raubie’s presence fingers me as I look at Tiaan. I can see the long lingering poison like strands of seaweed draped around his head. They reach out to tangle me too. I take Tiaan’s arm and pull him around and I point to the sea and the dancing night on the waves.

“Look at all the cormorants,” I say. “They are gathering to move to their winter roosts.”

“Let’s go home too,” says Tiaan.

Christina Coates


In water I was formed.
I had to push up hard
into my parents’ arms.
I grew up in the slums,
cradled by the ground,
by the belly of the mother city.
There was no one there
except a mountain.

I played alone;
my legs hooked over a branch.
I stared up at the high peaks;
I knew I was born to higher things.
I embraced it all.
I knew this was never for me;
I’d just gone into the wrong room.

Sometimes I was so angry
people were afraid,
they’d climb over me.
I had no chance to talk;
I’d just swing upside down.
The longing for the cliffs,
the clouds whispering my forehead.
They said I should reach
my arms to the ground.
I fumed with fury,
wanting to change it.

Then one day my father came
and took me to the mountain.
The weather turned and
the images of my geography
came searching for me.
High among the clouds
I saw angels.
I made a leap, reached to them.

Sandstone and magma gave birth to
a person no longer me.
Someone forgotten
drew me like a bee
to my dreams.
I melted and allowed
them to come.

Now I was a mother city,
managing the controls.
I flashed my eyes
I was the cup holder,
known as the Flying Angel.
My name was my lucky star,
young and beautiful.
Someone with golden wings
gave me a hand up,
and taught me to fly.
We met quite by chance
and I flew by his side.

After all the years
I am alone again.
Peace comes over me like rain.
An angel like me
I have time to write my memories;
I paint pictures
and dream
of hanging upside down
in clouds.

Christina Coates


Standing on a ledge of shale,
a peeling shelf of red,

the edge of the world;
I am here.

Below me are
folded belts of mountains.

I’m a statue of silent trembling,
frozen from fear.

I crawl
backwards at first.

I let go,
dust covers me

and little stones
pierce my knees.

Down the valley
eagles soar below,

plants grow in cracks;
a tiny yellow daisy smiles.

A trusty ficus and
bushes in crevices;

they balance me
on my hands and knees.

I want to survive, to find
a level. Then I see

the rocks have formed steps.
they lead me down,

to black ironwood and tamboti;
an umbrella space.

I am here on earth;
a heavenly place.

Christina Coates

And the day is ending.
The heat that sucks up all the air
sucks in again and out;
at last is gone. The wind returns
chasing the red hot day,
stampeding the dry fields to ground.
A strange mob of panting
trees, towering green blue-gums hide,
drop their gaunt sad faces
melting in long swags. They gasp grey
breaths of stinking resin;
the only sound; all day the heat.

Christina Coates

Little Sparrows

Words fall from inside my wrists,
rise like little sparrows.
Short stories enter
places like songs;
poetry etched on a river.
Words walk along my spine;
the sounds of lives,
unfinished things,
places like song.
An earring of words
keeps my life
in leaps of faith.

Word fall from inside my wrists,
rise like little sparrows
cautiously and slowly.
They see into the corners of things –
a broken shoe,
a sagging heart.
My words choose to be owned,
they come to me easily –
the furtive ones.
Accessing magic,
they peer from behind, from in-between;
phantoms, weary travellers and bards.

Christina Coates

The Mesa – the road to Formista (from Christina’s Camino, a work in progress)

I had walked a long and bitter road that day. The morning tasted like gravel – little bits of it on my tongue; it ground against my teeth, and my tongue breathed dust. My shoes kept filling with the little white stones and I had to stop often to free them. Eventually I just kicked my foot into the dry air to dislodge them. Some left. Others stayed. I hobbled on – the road a long white blistering belt. Whatever trees that may have been had left – the disgust with the place was felt by the grass too – the fields looked like the badly shorn cheeks of the old men in the village; stalky stubble of hard straw. The village itself offered no respite – only a stinky bar was open. I stumbled in, throwing my pack to the filthy floor, asking for the servicos. The lumpen black-clad woman growled her direction. I walked past her to a latrine that should have been banned.

All afternoon the cruel white road stretched out under the blazing sun. I aimed towards a sole tree – a measly palm and fell under it to drink from my heated water bottle. I must have fallen asleep – and begun a dream – a strange pale dream of falling stones. They changed into feathers and tickled my nose; for when I opened my eyes two angels were standing there over me. They offered me cool water and when I looked up the sun had disappeared behind their wings. I drank and then rested in the welcome shade. When I awoke again white butterflies, so common on the route, danced before me and led me to the next Refugio.

Christina Coates

The midnight rain is bitter as cardboard soaked in caustic soda and mixed with pork fat, rolled into balls and fried and then sold as dumplings to feed the poor and hungry. The cardboard over my head – my paper roof – is soaked with rain tonight; the cardboard sucking up the rain like caustic soda, disintegrating it, mashing my squatter home like those dumplings, so that my chest will heave and my cough will rack the night – the bitter night rain in this thin ragged box. The taste of poverty is like those caustic pork dumplings they sell to the poor in China.