Letter to the Last Megafauna
My friends, you wouldn’t like it here, moss
squelching underfoot, lean drizzle
tickling your rivulets, bare trees.
We’d give you names like Babar, Dumbo, Topsy,
then shackle your legs for safety (ours),
parade you in a car for entertainment (ours).
Everywhere we go (archaeology shows) the giants
disappear – save you, the last of the mammoths,
eyelid creased with wrinkles, black eye watching.
Some say we compare our manhood to your tusks,
and feel ashamed. I say your remind us of more –
raising clouds like smoke on columnar feet.
First we trained you to the chain, now rope,
soon a string will keep you in place.
It has come to this: elephant or skyscraper.
My friends, stay put, stay huge, stay bulldozer slow,
uprooting acacia and spurting fountains of mud
at the barrels of cameras and rifle scopes alike.
I write to you from the damp sponge of England,
but red dust swills my nostrils, and sun drums my hide.
I could stand upright in the chambers of your heart.
(first published in A Poetry of Elephants, ValMor Press, 2016)
Now we come to the part where the smallest
children file onstage, in animal pyjamas,
the village hall pumping the dance number
they practiced since September, and still
don’t really know, when the audience starts
clapping along to the music, because most
are related to one or another, a mum, gran,
uncle or aunt, and though they don’t say
the L-word much, picking them up at school
or tucking them in at night, this is their
way of saying: yes the lights are blinding,
the jokes over even our heads, but we are
here in the dark, loving the way you miss
the cue, hands up when everyone’s hands
are down, wanting to absorb like a black
sponge every drop of trepidation, so there
is only the thrill of being seen; clapping
to say: give us everything, all you’ve got.
(Both poems are from Cyclone, Nine Arches Press, July 2018)
Robert Peake is a British-American poet. His previous full-length collection is The Knowledge (Nine Arches Press, 2015). His work has featured in Acumen, Iota, Magma, The Interpreters House, The North, Berkeley Poetry Review, North American Review, and Poetry International. His film-poem collaborations have been widely screened at festivals throughout the US, UK, and Europe. Robert founded the Transatlantic Poetry online reading series and is a Poetry Surgery tutor for The Poetry Society. He lives with his wife and cat in rural Hertfordshire.