The Hospital

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Poem by Claire Rousell

We are building a hospital, a place of refuge, a sanctum

We have been skilling ourselves for all that this time demands of us

We have been sending smoke signals to the future people asking them for advice on how to be good Ancestors

We are building the walls from something our grandmothers said, from something our parents forgot, from something we picked up from a story about hunter gatherers in a National Geographic magazine

The roof is a piece of my grandfather’s house that I kept in a little tin on my windowsill

This place must be safe and dry

It must withstand the storm

We made the blankets from moss and grass collected from the rocks by the river that we remembered to love

Our mother is coming soon and we must be sure we have the medicines she will need

Tinctures for courage and a poultice soaked in drawing ointment for the new world order

We have been training ourselves as midwives, constructing the curriculum from the plants that come to us in our dreams, tracts from an old textbook on natural childbirth and a battered copy of Indaba my Children

She is near now

Heavy with birth and blood and body

None of us know what she will birth

But we have been dreaming of this time

A squalling storm, a raging owl, a flaming frangipani, eight eagles

We have been making plans

A pantry of forest and topsoil

A larder of carbon

Stockpiling mycelium and relations rather than guns and baked beans

Growing food forests in our high-rise apartments

Accruing libraries under our fingernails

Storing in the pages of our skin the recipes for compost, for happy bees, for the cycles of sycamore trees

Vested in our bones, the way our grandmother made soap from the sheep fat she scraped from our plates after dinner

We are calling our great grandmothers via the hornbill and hoepoe to remind us of the rituals for the afterbirth, for cleansing the bodies of our dead with oils and seeds, for how to make the sublime tears of wonder

We are singing the songs that remind our grandfathers to remind us how to restore the river and the primordial forest

She enters the apocalypse apothecary holding her belly, covered in blood and mud

She is supported on either side by the hackers and conscientious objectors, who heralded the breaking of her waters. They have been training for this day

Janus, keeper of transitions, endings and beginnings, awaits at the door, with a perlemoen shell and a smouldering bushel of mphepho

As she enters everything crashes behind her, the buildings crumble as the seas take back everything they momentarily offered up. Blood runs down the streets. The drought and the mud slide collide

A tide of black oil laps at the door.

I am an artist, writer and researcher based in South Africa working at the intersection between activism and art. For the past almost 2 years, I have focused my attention on understanding questions of food and seed sovereignty, and the challenges facing small scale farmers. My work is focused on developing spaces for ‘living in the future’, where alternative ways of doing food, community and education can be envisaged. Through co-created events, poetry, sculpture, installation and site-specific performance I explore with others how we might deconstruct the barriers within ourselves and society, making way for building a life-sustaining society.

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