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Rhinos are certainly not the only African animals whose very existence is threatened by poaching and unregulated hunting. African elephants continue to be slaughtered for their ivory, much of which is in commercial demand abroad.

Here, in another fine poem from the rhino anthology, UK poet Alison Lock reminds us of our own responsibility to help preserve these fabulous creatures. ‘Don’t buy ivory!’ is the powerful and essential message.

The Trunk

She gave me a string

of rosebuds, cream,

scented with almonds

 

inherited from an uncle

who’d stalked

the plains of Africa.

 

Too heavy

for my sapling neck

they adorned my doll

 

Angelina, and when

the threading

cord had broken

 

I placed them in a trunk

where they lay

for years until the day

 

when a man on the TV

pointed to a carcass

captured, de-tusked

 

discarded by poachers.

Tipping over the trunk

I let the ivory beads run free.

Alison Lock

As with Harry Owen’s previous collections, The Cull: new and resurrected poems reflects his lifelong fascination with, and growing concern for, the natural world, especially in relation to damaging human interactions with it.

Our encroachment upon formerly pristine wildlife habitat has given rise to an enormous increase in cries for the ‘culling’ (i.e. organised slaughter) of animals deemed to be problematic. Elephant ivory, rhino horn, lion bones and the body parts of innumerable other animals are much in demand so that these and many other magnificent creatures are under real threat of extinction. Poaching and trophy hunting (and the despicable business of ‘canned hunting’) add to the pressure.

So culling is at best a questionable practice. This collection attempts to ask some of those hard questions while at the same time celebrating the grandeur of what we still have.

The Cull: new and resurrected poems is scheduled for publication in the first part of 2017.

Travelling between Port Elizabeth and Cradock? A great place to stop for a rest and a meal is at Daggaboer Farm Stall – 48km from Cradock on the N10.

And the great news is that, as well as an array of superb Karoo books and fresh local produce, you can now purchase For Rhino in a Shrinking World there for only R150 – a superb opportunity in a fabulous little place. Take a look at their website:

Daggaboer Farm Stall

 

I have been quietly perusing again the wonderful poetry in For Rhino in a Shrinking World. I think I may share one or two poems from time to time. This one stays with me this evening: it tells its painful truths with an honest delicacy.

Vexed

 

It isn’t sexy, slaughtering the rhino.

Grinding the horn will not make you hard.

Softness does that. Whisper a sweet word.

 

The rest of you pretenders, oil execs, bankers, fiddlers

Bigots, control freaks, honkies; you happiness poachers,

Liars, pretenders – will you be roused?

 

Let the moose and the salmon and the rhino run wild.

Let bombs be knitted by old ladies and growing

Boys. Gouge the clay, pat it into usefulness. Leap from Mars

 

To Inisbofin. Paint your expression purple, your wagon yellow.

Grow a kumquat. Let the rhinos be too sexy for each other.

Let us see every big-footed wrinkle. Softly. Whisper.

 

Mary Mullen

 

Every two weeks the respected South African weekly newspaper Grocott’s Mail publishes a poetry column that I write. It is called Poetic Licence. Here is the latest:

Last weekend I listened to some truly outstanding people who are making a real difference. For this they rightly received Honorary Doctorates from Rhodes University.

It’s easy to forget, when the news is filled with stories of corruption, scandal, greed and crime that the world also contains individuals of exceptional talent and integrity.

Part of this week’s ghastly news was of renewed attacks upon local rhino. Two white rhinos were found dead and mutilated for their horns at Sibuya Game Reserve and another, which had been viciously disfigured and blinded, died shortly afterwards.

Then, near the Great Fish River, two black rhinos (only 5000 of which still exist) were found slaughtered – a mother and her calf. A third was gravely injured.

This is serious. Such gratuitous horror shames us all. We are overseeing the literal destruction of our world. And too many otherwise good people shrug, utter a platitude or two and assume there’s nothing to be done.

But the lesson of those receiving awards last week is that we can do something – indeed, that we must. Whether in promoting human rights or education, advancing social justice, aiding places devastated by war and natural disasters, or helping to preserve the natural world, if we do nothing we are complicit in our own ultimate ruin.

Three years ago, following the repulsive slaughter of rhinos at Kariega Game Reserve, the anthology For Rhino in a Shrinking World was published. Little enough, perhaps, but something to raise awareness and to support the heroic efforts of those on the front line of the fight to save these iconic creatures.

This poem – actually a song by American singer-songwriter David Mallett – was included. It’s about the importance of wild things everywhere and our relationship with them.

You Say That the Battle Is Over

You say that the battle is over
You say that the war is all done
Well go tell it to those with the wind in their nose
Who run from the sound of a gun.
And write it on the sides of the great whaling ships
Or on the ice flows where conscience is tossed
With the wild in their eyes
It is they who must die
And it’s we who must measure the loss.

You say that the battle is over
And finally the world is at peace
You mean no one is dying and mothers don’t weep
Or it’s not in the papers at least.
There are those who would deal in the dark side of life
There are those who would tear down the sun
And most men are ruthless but some men will weep
When the gifts we are given are gone.

Now the blame cannot fall on the heads of a few
It’s become such a part of the race
It’s eternally tragic that that which is magic
Be killed at the end of the glorious chase.
From young seals to great whales,
From waters to wood,
They will fall just like leaves in the wind.
But we’ve fur coats and perfumes and trophies on walls
What a hell of race to call men.

You say that the battle is over
You say that the war is all done
Well go tell it to those with the wind in their nose
Who run from the sound of a gun.
And write it on the sides of the great whaling ships
Or on the ice flows where conscience is tossed
With the wild in their eyes
It is they who must die
And it’s we who must measure the loss.
With the wild in their eyes
It is they who must die
And it’s we who must measure the loss.

(Music and words by David Mallet: Cherry Lane Music Pub. Co. Inc)

Thandi2

This is Thandi, the heroic rhino to whom For Rhino in a Shrinking World is dedicated. Her horn was, of course, hacked from her face by poachers.

Since then, I have had both the honour and the despair of watching a rhino darted and de-horned in order to make it less attractive to poachers. Here is my response to that experience.

I wish all rhinos long life, safety and the dignity of living as they are meant to: in the wild and free of human interference.

Chainsaw

I have always hated that sound: it means
death for something, it means devastation,
the hollow shriek of human intrusion.

Now here he is, crumpled on his haunches,
a white rhino bull, too strong, too proud, too
much himself, despite the darts, to go down.

But he’s drugged, masked, pinned: this to save his world.

And clearly he has been through the nightmare
before, though his stunted horn has re-grown.
Now the indignity repeats itself.

Our work’s against the clock, the sedative,
the history; his life depends on us.
So, plenty of cool water – and a chainsaw.

The helicopter’s pilot lounges, smoking,
in his cab as blizzards of horn shavings
surge from the blade like flakes of pale soap,

like the weeping wings of termites or ants,
like butterflies consecrating the grass
beneath the sun’s fire and the chainsaw’s hell.

This is what we’re reduced to: presiding
over the face of our world, cosmetic
surgery or death, improving nothing.

Harry Owen

The rhino is the ‘headline’ species for a much wider threat to the whole of the natural world – the “immense, unknown life / going on around you, within you” – and this threat  is the subject of award-winning Australian poet Andy Kissane’s wonderfully moving poem ‘Flight’.

Flight

Sometime in June or July, throw on a cable-stitched
grey jumper or even a thick coat for warmth,
take the afternoon off and head out past Kurnell
to Cape Solander. There, on the white sandstone cliffs
above the vast flood, look for humpbacks
heading north, swimming near the shore
to dodge the ocean current sliding south.
Witness, if you’re lucky, a whale breaching—
the corrugated whiteness of its wobbly ascension,
the dark certainty and blazing glitter of its fall.
The cold breeze ruffles the diamond quilt
until it’s as messy as an unmade bed, it tugs
at the waving tendrils of spear grass and at the tips
of your ears, it makes your eyes water
as if some old sadness has unexpectedly taken hold.
You can find no sign of a sea eagle, hovering;
you cannot name the endangered species
growing in this headland heath. But you can close
your eyes, you decide to do this simple thing,
electing to completely miss the whale if it rises again,
aware now of this immense, unknown life
going on around you, within you, as the buffeting,
lunging wind picks you up and gives you wings.

Andy Kissane

‘Flight’ comes from the collection Radiance by Andy Kissane (Puncher & Wattmann, 2014)

http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/radiance

 

VI

From fragments, horns, we dream of the unicorn,

fleet footed, ephemeral, fairest of all.

More beautiful still is the wholeness of things;

the slow rhino, pressing his feet into the earth

wirh every step.

 

VII

In the mud at the edge of the waterhole,

the earth and the water are one.

The earth and the water and the rhino

are one.

 

 

Species

 

Sometimes they rise before me in the night,

the lemurs, eyes as bare and bright as moons,

the lizard, older than the afternoon,

the coral’s tender hands which sun bleached white.

Some are immense, the tiger, shot and still,

some thumbnail-sized, like Chile’s emerald frog,

I never saw, and soon, nobody will.

 

Alison Brackenbury

 

You might imagine that a limerick, with all its implications of light-hearted jokiness, would be the last kind of poem to find a place in a serious anthology such as this.  But here Madeleine Begun Kane, whilst maintaining her limerick’s essential levity, cleverly manages to make an important ecological point at the same time.  And that takes talent.

Limerick Ode to the Rhinoceros

The rhino appears prehistoric,

With a diet that’s vega-caloric.

It’s endangered, alas,

Laws to save it must pass.

This would make all its lovers euphoric.

Madeleine Begun Kane


(American humorist, political satirist and poet Madeleine Begun Kane – “Mad Kane” – won the 2008 Robert Benchley Society Humor Award and is a National Society of Newspaper Columnists award winner.  She publishes the humor site MadKane.com – http://www.madkane.com – and her humor, essays, limericks and light verse have been published in numerous newspapers, print magazines, web sites, anthologies and college textbooks.)