bucket list

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

like thunder.

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,

an aphrodisiac.

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.

cover up

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

and goats,

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