the crackle of plastic as an elephant’s trunk unfurls,
accepts a sugared bag;
gentle eyes and huge eyelashes smile
as it stuffs it into its mouth.
it’s so stupid, it’s eating my bag! shouts the nasty kid.
I am about five. waiting to see the circus.
watching in horror as an elephant eats a plastic bag
sticky with the remains of pink fairy floss.
I am probably thirty, I am right beside him,
a baby elephant in the streets of Bangkok.
he is only my height and has crossed the road with his owner.
I pat his big head, hair all wiry and black;
I was expecting baby soft.
I take a photo; no money is exchanged,
but the next day, I pay to ride an elephant with a friend,
and later, as we step from a temple to find our shoes,
chang! chang! elephant, he come!
we retreat in fear, crouch behind a wall,
as a screaming elephant with a painted face
bounds through the sacred site, running for its life
through a crowd of tourists;
I knew I would never ride an elephant again.
I am forty, watching friends take their kids to the circus,
colleagues pose, holding snakes and baby crocodiles;
smiling, always smiling, going to zoos for fun.
an elephant is just a thing on a bucket list;
everyone must pat, ride, wash one,
even if it means pretending,
pretending that this is what an elephant wants,
all day every day.
I am fifty
and tusks are still trophies, a bag of fairy floss
is still every elephant’s dream;
an elephant is still a thing
on a bucket list.
an elephant is a still a thing on a bucket list.
caviar politics & the seaweed rhetoric of salmon
poached fishmongers today have revealed
a devastating deep ocean outbreak of salacious salmon
and promiscuous pufferfish pandemonium,
the coronavirus catch-and-release pariah
finally concluding in a goldfish aquarium stalemate;
this has left the waterproof vested interests of the world
in pescatarian waters.
rockfish admissions and well-hidden industry tackle
have been bulldozed by the bikini lines of pink-slippered holiday makers,
who, with their castigating, masticating lines,
refuse to believe the incendiary explanations
of the suspected hosts: the party-going, Machiavellian salmons
(who are known philanderers in chameleon freshwater jaws,
sparking further protests from racist anchovies).
worldwide, unanswerable palates and marinated trolls
have sparked penchants for embellished visceral scapegoats,
their coffee-chain commitment and facelift rumours
harpooning stock market toe jam and fish farming fashionistas
as the ultimate chopping boards; this has also bloodily hooked
deep sea vegans and their trawled bovine trapeziums
to suspect caviar politics and seaweed rhetoric,
but the nibbling fears of a negative paella restaurant queue
will only be sushied when burnished fish-hook gormandizing
ceases to interrogate random, immaculate grapevines
and elegantly swallows the gasping murmur of rock pools.
This poem was inspired by an article about the discovery of Covid-19 in a Beijing fish market, with blame for the spread of the virus being placed on imported salmon and a suspect chopping board. I wanted to highlight how far we can go to avoid talking about our human contribution to the development of coronaviruses.
old world monkey
my camera holds still
through the bars on my window;
small black hands tear leaves from the pomegranate tree.
too close, my fingers stretch to close the pane
on a Nilgiri langur
who barks into my face,
its liquorice mouth and pin-like teeth bared,
orange mane ablaze.
banana leaves shift in the wind,
and I can feel you everywhere;
a family of sleek black bodies, all sizes
from grandmother to newborn, jumping fences,
bounding across our tin roof
you move with ease, nimble over barbed wire
and metal, concrete and wood,
romping and wrestling in the spaces
no longer meant for you;
your fur, once a coat,
your skin, perfect stretch of a drum,
your innards, dream medicine,
your bright eyes hold me
at the window, call me to the balcony
to be in your presence, softly,
away from you,
but close enough to feel you breathing.
black room, a screen of light,
photos of you having a cappuccino
with your three daughters,
your youngest at Disneyland
before she’s even ten;
selfies at the zoo, holding a snake,
a koala, crocodile, a chick,
your husband with expensive café meals
of cheesy chips, burgers, fried eggs
and smoky bacon;
the world around you smiles
with GIFs and thumbs of blue, your spoilt brat grandchildren
dripping ice cream and showbags,
all on show,
and everyone’s so jealous.
I want one! Where’s mine?
at three cute puppies wearing cardigans and hats,
bred right in your backyard.
posts when your fridge
is on its way out, poor thing,
and the wine you opened was a very good year;
but you’ve had better.
you change your lightbulbs to LEDs,
learn to make a bin liner from newspaper,
and tell the world about it.
no posts about
the thousands of dogs and cats quietly snuffed out
behind the government’s closed doors,
the ground chicks behind your eggs,
the piglets whose tails are cut,
screaming; no images
of dying babies in Syria, families in Yemen,
refugees on the Greek border,
only your shiny holiday snaps in the UK, the US,
and everyone’s sooooo jealous;
though once you posted
the French flag, and a rainbow
to highlight your profile picture,
because you care.
old woman in black
a concrete path leads to two dead chickens,
taken early this morning by an alepoú;
you place piece upon piece of scrap metal and wood,
a makeshift door to hide your last hen.
trees crowd your home,
mist holds your thoughts,
your goats, five, each tied by a single leg
in the small room under your house;
you are too tired, too old now,
to set them in the yard.
a bed covered in laundry, half-folded,
reeks of moth balls,
a cupboard left open spills blankets, doilies,
pretty tablecloths edged by your hand,
embroidered for your dowry long ago
when your husband brought you here to live;
now the village holds only thirty,
and he is long dead.
you wear a black scarf to honour him,
light a candelaki on the gravel road.
a stray cat smiles over your dead chickens,
red gashes from teeth, gizzards
spilled onto dust;
your father in the war in 1918,
and you here, alone, with your thinking
an old burner stove, a peeled apple,
acorns collected in worn metal dishes.
you are well, you say, no pain,
black sneakers and stockings with a widow’s skirt,
cardigan covered in pillings,
and pills strewn across your table; you show me
how to use your ancient sewing machine,
fetch a handful of pepper,
then you throw it
onto the concrete floor of your kitchen;
your chimney spits the day away
as a fish van hums outside your door,
three cats circling.
Lisa Reily is a former literacy consultant, dance director and teacher from Australia. Her poetry and stories have been published in several journals, such as Amaryllis, London Grip, The High Window, Panoplyzine, Riggwelter, The Fenland Reed, Wanderlust and River Teeth Journal’s Beautiful Things. You can find out more at lisareily.wordpress.com