Poems from ‘For Rhino in a Shrinking World’

For Rhino in a Shrinking World 
 
 
 
For Rhino in a Shrinking World, An International Anthology
Published by The Poets Printery, South Africa, 2013
 
Edited by Harry Owen
Illustrated by Sally Scott
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
All proceeds from the sale of this volume go, via the Chipembere Rhino Foundation, to support the work of fighting poaching and protecting our gravely threatened natural heritage. 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
“What we need in the world today is to hear within us
the sounds of the earth crying”
(Taken from a Zen Poem)
 
 
Man’s connection with the earth is a mystifying confusion of physical, chemical and spiritual beauty. The depth and complexity of nature’s secrets has scarcely begun to be understood by the overwhelming tide of human beings. To be able to appreciate and take care of the abundance of life on our planet has always been a challenge.
 
Life has always been a mystery that many of us scarcely take the time to consider. The poets bring glimpses of a reality beyond our known sense and the beauty of their words lingers for centuries, be it Virgil, Wordsworth or Rupert Brooke. As we fail to understand the depth of the natural world, we place ourselves at risk.
 
The poets who have contributed to this book forcibly bring to mind the terrible plight of the rhino in the modern world. We applaud their efforts.
 
Rhino have a particularly plaintive cry, which once heard is never forgotten. The screams of agony from rhino that have had their horns chopped off while still alive should reach out into the hearts of all of us. We believe that it is only through a GLOBAL campaign and POLITICAL will that we can save this remnant of the dinosaur age – the rhino.
 
The heritage of a species, the rhino, and the environment we share with it, symbolises so much of what the Wilderness Foundation is driven to take care of. It is our hope that what lies within this anthology will reveal enough to inspire everyone to respond to the “sounds of the earth crying”.”
 
– Dr Ian Player and Andrew Muir, Wilderness Foundation
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
“The deepening crisis faced by our rhino threatens to overwhelm us as we are assaulted daily by rotting images of animals mutilated at the hands of greedy man. The gruesome account of just two of the victims of poaching has reached into the hearts of these writers and resonates back on us from across the world. A challenge for us all to react. Our simple personal responses as caring custodians in the face of such a daunting reality, is all that stands between life and extinction.
 
Who will join this global collection of humane reactions? Will there be enough to express our value for the natural world? Are we able to focus fear, anger and bitter sadness into those simple abilities we have been blessed with and create the change on which we all depend? I trust the power of the written word gathered within this wonderful collection, inspired by Harry Owen as an expression of his own journey, is enough to change our hearts and ignite us into action.”
 
– Dr William Fowlds
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Contributors: Hannah Armour, Natalie Armour, AE Ballakisten, Shabbir Banoobhai, Mike Barlow, Brett Beiles, Marike Beyers, Alison Brackenbury, Roger Bradley, Peter Branson, Mark Burnhope, Chloë Callistemon, Veronica Caperon, Hélène Cardona, Alfred Corn, Richard de Nooy, Dónall Dempsey, Gail Dendy, Bandile Dlabantu, Jordan du Toit, Baisali Chatterjee Dutt, Margaret Eddershaw, Chukwudi-prince Ehilegbu, Roger Elkin, Nola Firth, John Forbis, Myfanwy Fox, w. Terry Fox, Lance Fredericks, Hailey Gaunt, Kim Goldberg, Veronica Golos, Matt Goodfellow, Elizabeth Gowans, Geraldine Green, Kerry Hammerton, Rosemund Handler, Geoffrey Haresnape, Caroline Hawkridge, Silke Heiss, Denis Hirson, Linda Hofke, Phil Howard, Louisa Howerow, Chris Jackson, Simon Jackson, Lorne Johnson, Madeleine Begun Kane, Peter Kantey, Andy Kissane, Valerie Laws, Stuart Thembisile Lewis, John Lindley, Pippa Little, Alison Lock, Moira Lovell, David Mallett, Chris Mann, Andrew Martin, Agnes Marton, Ian McCallum, Fokkina McDonnell, Jeannie Wallace McKeown, Joan Metelerkamp, Sonwabo Meyi, John Mhongovoyo, Bill Milner, Ian Mole, Norman Morrissey, Mary Mullen, Tendai Mwanaka, Philip Neilsen, Kate Noakes, Edward Nudelman, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Harry Owen, Val Payn, Pascale Petit, Pauline Plummer, Joan Poulson, Ron Pretty, Sheenagh Pugh, Wonga Qina, Lesego Rampolokeng, Andrew Renard, Susan Richardson, Mark Roberts, Amali Rodrigo, Sam Schramski, Sally Scott, Richard Slater-Jones, Dennis Slattery, JD Smith, Annette Snyckers, Leih Steggall, John Stocks, Adam Tavel, Michael James Treacy, Megan van der Nest, Ellen van Neerven-Currie, Marc Vincenz, Elmé Vivier, Wendy Wallace, Brian Walter, Mal Westcott, Tony Williams, Phil Williams, Jennifer Wong, Ruth Woudstra, Dan Wylie and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Dear Rhino, love from Hippo
Tony Williams
 
 
With skin like ours, friend, the usual
          insults of a rivalry descend
          harmlessly as confetti or the blossom of trees
          we rub our backs against.
Nor would expressions of sympathy survive
          the foul tempers of our readership. Instead
          I’m sending you this chatty letter, a crocodilian
          sickle of courtesy in the poisoned soup,
          which might worry you if crocodiles did.
          Be assured of my continuing hostility and indifference.
 
In the past month
          I have eaten a rare fly, a wristwatch,
          a silhouette, odd chunks of my rivals’ chins
          and a vast tonnage of hay which you,
dense hoover of the midday sun, missed
          when the eternal salad drawer of the night
          clanked open as you slept. Or are you
          nocturnal too? It’s hard to see in the dark.
 
You doomed swordsman, me cloven-hoofed
          and cackling like a whale. You unicorn,
          me Cadillac bumping up
          against the blond girl’s legs.
Whatever happened
          to your ambition to become a freelance illustrator?
Every time I pass the hospital
          done out like the concourse of an old European station
          with the pediments high up based, unattributed,
          on your sketch of an elephant’s toenails
I think dommage! and of the royalties we’d claim
          if I’d ever passed my law exams and you
          weren’t such a raging and wretchedly cantankerous drunk.
 
At least we don’t owe money to the giraffes.
Down at the waterhole it’s O’Casey
          the lion this O’Casey
          the lion that but it’s us
          they come to when the drains are blocked.
You, woodcut engraving from the days of the plague,
          me poster paints printed by a dipped-in bum.
 
Listen, priapus-face, I’ve been
          divining the future in the map of illness
          disclosed in my own used nappy.
I think you’d enjoy a cheese and pickle sandwich
          if you dared to enter a deli. I think the jackals would swoon
          like spinach wilting if only you’d show them The Dance.
I’ve been listening to local radio over the internet.
          I’ve bid on a doll’s house and
          a signed photo of Lothar Matthaus.
I’ve heard a grown man singing falsetto
          for the amusement of chumps.
 
Thanks very much for the library card. I’ve read of
          isotopes, anarchists, artistic foibles of heretical sects.
I’ve read a few classics, and enjoyed your waspish annotations.
          (I dreamed I saw your initials
          carved into the brickwork of the Bradford Alhambra
          but didn’t inform the police.)
 
You tin opener, me turtle without a shell,
          you me, me you. How long
          will we put up with being haunted
          by the ghosts of all the antelopes
          mistaking us for mobile crypts to hole up in?
Now that I’ve developed the transmogrifier
          we could go anywhere, do anything –
          spend a century as a standard lamp, become amoebas
          in the eye-sockets of a monkey, and get elected.
So don’t get pettish. Sling your keys in the bowl.
          We’ll put our heads together, become a
          hiprhiponopocetarosmus,
          get a scholarship to university, mend a motorbike,
step out one morning after a pot of tea,
          carrying a cudgel, thinking
          how the sky’s colour reminds us of approaching evening,
          how the deaths of our loved ones will become
as quaint a topic as the weather and the history of the Anabaptist Church
          which we might tease open with a little sullen laugh
          over a tall glass of Pernod.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
You’ll never become a rhinoceros, really you won’t …
you haven’t got the vocation
(‘Rhinoceros’ – Eugène Ionesco)
Susan Richardson 
 
 
There comes a day when making donations
and signing petitions isn’t enough,
when braver decisions are needed.
So you practise detachment
from your knees,
trample the lunchtime prattle of fat loss
and anti-wrinkle creams.
You commit to omitting to moisturise,
will your skin to thicken,
thrill to fashion callouses and warts.
 
When the first horn forms, it triggers
second thoughts, till you use it to gore
your twinges of caution.
From raw veg and fruit, you move
to woody shrubs and thorns,
snort through weeks
of stomach cramps and wind.
But the wallowing’s a breeze,
and the shift to horizontal’s eased
by your umpteen years of yoga.
 
Next to varied breathing speeds
and scent-marking middens of dung,
texting seems so naive. In fact,
if you still had fingers and thumbs
you’d just use them to pinch yourself,
for you’ve done what none
can believe. And while the strain of raising
your head has led
to chronic pain in your neck,
your brain hums with infrasonic success.
 
As you roam your home range,
oxpeckers divest you of ticks
and outmoded emotions,
though you insist they must not strip you
of awareness
of your rare, endangered state.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Crushed Dragon Bones
Marc Vincenz

          Tiger Claw Apothecary, Shanghai, 1999
 
 
Quan leads me through an array of popping scents,
this lingering whiff of Bombay spice bazaar,
 
medicine healing scars, prehensile fungi, blooming
rhino horn, white deer antler, mandible of stag beetle,
 
snapping tail of scorpion, turtle snout, all crushed to steep
in clear hot liquids bubbling right into the very centre
 
of the maze where a woman in a nightdress waits patiently.
Here he goes whispering in the corner.
 
Lady behind the counter turns flushed-cheek red,
titters under her breath, holds her hand to cover her teeth.
 
Eyes him apprehensively. Eyebrows arch-raised,
coughs in syncopated answer. Fiddles with her stethoscope.
 
Another woman looks me up and down: Hey you, big nose?
Want me check your pulse? I sit down across the counter.
 
She applies the leather-puffing contraption to my left biceps.
Pumps until I feel my left side is ready to explode.
 
Aha, take this. She fiddles a powder, rattling grains from
that drawer, granules from another. All marked in red.
 
Grinds the mixture in mortar humming some old love tune.
Flips the dust into a paper bag. Hand palm out:
 
Fifty yuan. Releases the catch and Ssssss spins down.
Quan’s smiling ear to ear and we’re out the door
 
through the hedgerows and into haze of open space.
Quan rumbles something about bones old bones.
 
Crushed dragon bones for the little man inside.
No problem like you, he says. This will keep me going all night.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
The Dead are Bored
Philip Neilsen
 
 
We the dead are bored with your concerns
 
your endless talk on radio and TV about diet and pets
 
your fear of impotence
 
your fascination with genealogy
 
your colour photos taken on holiday in Africa:
 
speak for us now
 
or condemn us all by your tiny fears
 
your politeness about customs and magical beliefs.
 
Listen, only this is magic – human and rhino
 
conjoined. When we depart
 
and clumsy birds mop the plain
 
you see there your own remains.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
‘Best Selling: Father and Son Hunting Package Deals’
Valerie Laws
 
 
The world is big and wide, son.
It’s ours to rule and ride, son.
Come hunting the Big Five, son,
It’s all about male pride.
 
Game animals are grand, son,
And you must understand, son,
They are ours, as is the land, son,
It’s all about God’s plan.
 
The elephant, the lion, son,
The buffalo and leopard, son,
The rare and savage rhino, son;
Stalking them is hard.
 
So beautiful they are, son,
Most dangerous by far, son.
Come hunting with your Pa, son,
For nights beneath the stars.
 
I promise you it’s fun, son,
With servants and two guns, son,
We’ll bag them every one, son,
Until the job is done.
 
They’ll snap us with our Five, son,
Propped up as if alive, son,
Then carve steaks with their knives, son,
For us to feast upon.
 
And when you eat your fill, son,
Of meat and see blood spill, son,
And when you’ve learned to kill, son,
You’ve learned a manly skill.
 
We’ll fly back home to Mom, son,
With washing to be done, son,
And trophies to be shown, son,
The skins, the horns, the bone.
 
It’s a kind of conservation, son,
These beasts need preservation, son,
So we shoot them on reservations, son,
So you can take your son.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Why Save The Fckn Rhino, Harry?
Richard de Nooy
 
 
Let’s face it, Harry, every fckn war we’ve ever
 
fought every nation squashed and generation
 
stolen each pre-fckn-cision bombing and
 
concentration camp the man-high heaps of
 
napalmed children grotesque decapitated
 
privates draped over barbed wire and women
 
raped for days on end the in-fckn-terminable
 
talks of peace and cease fires that only serve
 
to replenish and prepare for world war fckn
 
eight hundred and thirty-three the scorched
 
earth blacker than Satan’s arsehole into which
 
the orphans creep in search of cover and
 
AK-47s, grenades and mines to
 
blow their barren fckn world to kingdom
 
fckn come and every martyr strapped with
 
semtex every broken life and drop of fckn blood
 
endless inventories of collateral damage poorly
 
hidden mass graves that all reveal ma-fckn
 
-cabre human treasures displayed in grinning
 
rows and each and every other fckn act of
 
violence albeit somehow vague and indirect
 
was perpetrated for one reason only so
 
that rich men’s cocks would grow or stay erect.
 
 
So why only save the fckn rhino, Harry, why?
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Your Tour Guide Speaks
Harry Owen
 
 
6.00 p.m.
 
Hi, everyone!
We trust you’re enjoying your sundowners.
A few short years ago we couldn’t have
played you this record of the plains
in such blissful comfort, for then there was
no road. The Great Migration, they called it,
of wildebeest and zebra, but what use
was that when none of us could watch such stuff
as now we do in air-conditioned calm?
Those days are gone, thank God, the Great Migration
is no more, but life moves on and we adore
our Serengeti Roadshow.
 
We drive through early evening into night,
deep darkness of the range about us now,
for why should we need detail? These eyes
that surge and leap on us in acid whites
and bloody reds are really all we’ve travelled for.
Let’s tick them off our Big Five species lists –
elefords in the middle of the road,
buffamercs and those sleek white rolls-rhino,
our latest ivory, newest muti.
Mara will spawn the mitsubishi hippo,
more deadly in the dark of the moon than
this fat catillac, king of all the beasts.
We speed past the cheetatas (be quick with
those field guides!), placid audilope alert,
and the smarmy Black Market Wildebeest,
noting the occasional ponderous
VWDungbeetle, thought extinct
but making a slow and ponderous comeback.
 
But it’s getting late. Recline your seats
and rest: dream of wild Africa.
 
 
 
6.00 a.m.
 
Good morning!
Just ahead and to the left, ladies
and gentlemen, boys and girls, where our coach
slows for the flashing amber light, you’ll spot,
grazing at the roadside verge, a small herd
of white ute-bakkie, once extremely rare
on these vast plains but now plentiful
from Arusha to Lake Victoria.
Always at their most striking in the haze
of early morning when our Tanzanian
sun sears itself, so languid in the smoggy east,
they rev – so have your cameras ready.
And look, presiding over that scrapyard
to our right, a splendid pair of blue cranes!
 
Yet, though this is indeed the Road That
Never Ends, we’ve glimpsed our destination:
last chance to pause before the journey ends.
Here is the world famous Pick-up Pit Stop –
and what better breakfast than its cool
Kikwete Fast Chowmein (KFC for short:
you’ve seen their logo all along the road,
the friendly huge red grinning Colonel Croc),
the only one with chopsticks fashioned
from authentic acacia wood. Alas,
this morning all that’s left for us to poach
are the eggs of kites and vultures pulling
at the putrid flesh of roadkill corpses.
The rest is out of stock, so please don’t ask
to see the manager – he’ll likely be
in some important meeting.
Or at a conference.
 
So thanks for sharing your World Heritage
Safari Experience with us. Do
enjoy your omelette – and have a lovely day!
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
  
Stone by Stepping Stone
John Lindley
 
 
From ‘landfill’ to ‘lapwing’
requires more than a dip in the alphabet,
more than just a leap of faith
yet it begins
and it begins not letter by letter
but hedge by fattening hedge.
 
It begins as small as a bird table
and grows as wide as a field, as long as a ridge.
It begins amongst foxgloves and figwort,
in a morning of meadowsweet
and though no wild boar witness it
it is noted by hairstreak and peregrine,
by badger and owl.
 
It begins stone by stepping stone
and who would have thought such stones
could be engineered and sown?
Who would have thought
they could be dreamt, mapped and moulded
into more than fancy, more than symbol?
 
Still, it begins. From Frodsham to Bulkeley Hill.
From corridor to green corridor
a land found and refashioned
reclaims itself and swells until each corridor
is no longer measured by the wing span of a hawk
but by the circumference of its flight.
 
Born of a glacial shift –
a sandstone ridge,
red raw with promise,
skirts hill fort and castle.
A raven hunches like age
against the gathering mist.
 
Put an ear to the earth,
hear a seed splitting with new life.
Cast an eye to the hills,
see elms able again to stretch and touch fingers.
Woodland and heathland –
all are a heartland
and it is a heart that beats from Beacon Hill
to Bickerton and beyond.
 
It is a heart thought still,
jumpstarted by other hearts:
by landlord and farmer,
by owner and tenant,
by craftsman and labourer,
by the you and me we call a community.
 
It is a heart that drums
in the small frame of newt,
the slick casing of otter,
the sensual hide of deer
and grows louder,
like the echo of those lost skylarks
who went with the grassland
but now sing of recovery, sing of return.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Extremophile
Sheenagh Pugh
 
 
Two miles below the light, bacteria
live without sun, thrive on sulphur
in a cave of radioactive rock,
and, blind in the night of the ocean floor,
molluscs that feed only on wood
wait for wrecks. White tubeworms heap
in snowdrifts around hydrothermal vents,
at home in scalding heat. Lichens encroach
on Antarctic valleys where no rain
ever fell. There is nowhere
life cannot take hold, nowhere so salt,
so cold, so acid, but some chancer
will be there, flourishing on bare stone,
getting by, gleaning a sparse living
from marine snow, scavenging
light from translucent quartz, as if
lack and hardship could do nothing
but quicken it, this urge
to cling on in the cracks
of the world, or as if this world
itself, so various, so not to be spared
as it is, were the impetus
never to leave it.
 
 
 
 
 
from For Rhino in a Shrinking World
(The Poets Printery, South Africa, 2013).
  
Order For Rhino in a Shrinking World.  
 
Visit For Rhino in a Shrinking World’s website
 
Visit the Chipembere Rhino Foundation.

4 thoughts on “Poems from ‘For Rhino in a Shrinking World’

  1. Harry Owen

    This is a lovely posting that does proper credit to the power of the poetry speaking for those who do not have a voice of their own. Thank you.

  2. sallyscottsart

    A great post! Thank you for sharing these poems and helping to spread the word about Southern Africa’s rhino crisis. It is much appreciated. Sally Scott

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