Tag Archives: bestiary

GWP’s Poem-a-Day from Greg Delanty

For our series “A Poem a Day,” we are honored to publish a sequence of poems from the editor of our climate change anthology, So Little Time: Words and Images for a World in Climate Crisis, Greg Delanty. About his upcoming poetry collection No More Time (due from LSU Press next August/September) where this sequence is taken from:

 No More Time as a whole, is showing, at the start of the 21st century, how we are all connected in so many ways.  The sequence ‘The Field Guide to People’ is arranged alphabetically and is a kind of integrated earthly heaven (thriving flora and fauna), purgatory (declining flora and fauna) and hell (extinct flora and fauna). The decline of the creatures and plants of the latter two is due in every case mainly to humans. The form of the poems in this sequence is the terza rimasonnet, both poems of the underworld and love poems to the natural world, connecting the past with the present in form and content. Since one of the greatest poems to portray humans in the Christian world is Dante’s underworld, Delanty has created a representative underworld for plants and creatures, rectifying the general centuries-old western attitude that humans are not apart, but part of the environment.

Chimpanzee

As a chimp, usually the adult male,

approaches and the roar of the

water booms louder, you see him,

without fail,

 

speed up. His demeanor starts to

alter, hair bristling. Arriving at the

fall,

he stands, sways from one foot to the other,

 

bows, genuflects. Answering some call,

he dips his hand as if in holy water, splashes

himself along the tassel border of the silk

wall,

 

climbs the bell ropes of draping vines,

lashes his body to several, takes flight

over the deafening water as it crashes.

 

He swings like a thurible above that veil of

white; the spray is the incense of the

monkey’s water rite.

 

Elephant

Sometimes you see something so

dreadful that the mind  snaps a shot

or shoots a video of the scenario,

 

lasers it into your retina on  the spot, 

impaled in you for as long as you live:

 a teacher thrashing a pupil — a crying tot —

or the elephant Dan and I saw given a

sedative so she could rest, sleep, that time

in Dublin Zoo. The aged female was

trapped in a repetitive

 

back and forth on her haunches,

unable to stop herself, a tormented

beast of Orcus.

Her attendant explained, feeding her bamboo,

 

“Twas her one way to move, trapped in the van of a circus

so long. Rescuing her was our onus and bittersweet bonus.”

 

Falls-of-the-Ohio Scurfpea

I feel like a student in my Environment

101, crushed by daily news: creatures

going or gone, the changing climate, the

planet under the gun.

 

In teacher mode I tell them: “For yourselves you

press on, your own wellbeing. You’re entitled to be

happy.

Action makes life fun. Good news: the Café Marron

 

and sage grouse are saved”. I say nothing of the scurfpea,

Orbexilum stipulatum? Its modest flower

blending with white-bearded cascades. A

century

 

or more and not a single sighting along the

river at Rock Island. It relied too much on

the bison. You know how one thing depends

on another,

 

with the jowled ones diminished, so went this

‘un; finally condemned with the building of US

Dam 21.

 

Ibex

In January 2000, the Pyrenean ibex (Spanish common name ‘bucardo’)
became extinct. Scientists cloned DNA from a last female.

In the end, no cliff or impossible

crag could save them from

plantation or gun. Their heads hang

on walls. Hunters brag.

 

Many were taken down for sheer fun.

The king pucks — their antler plumes

rising magisterially — plugged one by none.

 

Gone the clash of horn scimitars,

grooms battling to mate, the

bucardo of lore.

White-coated gods in lab rooms

 

summoned one back from the dark shore

of the underworld. They should have

known from the ancient myths what was

in store.

 

She returned after seven minutes, lone

clone, relieved to be back among the herds

of her own.

 

  Jellyfish Tree

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Kāmaʻo

Imagine a place, a zone, an

underworld which includes more

than our own kind:

the green and moving ones: ferns with curled

 

violin necks, gloaming players who

grind their wings together. And listen,

the music, the strain of this bird

lingers in the wind.

 

What flute-like notes, what warbling, what

a lick of trills and whistles. Can you hear

its song?

Heard melodies are sometimes sweeter. A trick

 

of the breeze, zephyr? Things went

wrong with land clearing. Hurricane

season intensified, uprooted trees, and

before long

 

mosquitoes multiplied in rain-storm

stagnation. The song: a figment of my

birdbrained imagination.

 

Northern Gastric Frog

This creature’s extinction is attributable to the human introduction
of pathogenic fungi into their native
range.

This one was a bit of an artist,

especially the female, so oddly

fecund.

At home in backwater rocky

 

cascades and riffles. Hard to

find, to spot even when

plentiful.

Its stone-hued skin and sepia behind

 

blending in. After the female

laid eggs, in vitro fertilized by her

groom, she swallowed them whole,

 

turned her stomach into a burgeoning

womb. Six weeks later she gave birth

within

and out of her own mouth. No more room

 

for lungs, she breathed through her own skin, 

spewed up her mites, each wearing a clown-

sad grin.

 

Oryza sativa

Something to behold, how this crop

succeeds in such diverse moraine. Best

of all, see row after row descend

gradually from the gods

 

down mountainsides to the valleys

below, tiers of a great amphitheater,

their heads craning to watch the show:

 

the traffic, rickshaws, the general

theater of our priceless world. On the

slow train to Kandy I was a passing

spectator,

 

watched locals kneeling to the god of

rain, lay offerings to the assisting

oxen and ant, petition the god of rice

for healthy grain.

 

I wanted to join them, genuflect, pray, chant

praise to the plant that’s half the world’s

constant.

 

Quagga

This chimeric beast, part zebra, part donkey,

—its name the phantom sound

of its supposed call—enjoyed the society

 

of ostrich and gnu, foraged remote grassland.

So comically mythical: the striped head

a kind of convict’s shirt, each band

 

fading until mid-body it bled

into a rufus rear, and on to a white tail.

(the last sad male to be found was bred

 

with a flummoxed horse, producing a female

striped in reverse, from waist to rear).

It’s as if a circus clown ran out of a final pail

 

of white paint. The only photo’d quagga, a mare, 

stares back from behind bars with an accusing glare.

 

Rafflesia arnoldii

The corpse flower, a flower straight out of hell

on earth, not one to give your wife or mother

come Valentine’s Day, or wear on your lapel.

 

Though the sight of this particular

flower’s measled, fleshy-skinned,

monstrous petal wouldn’t help you

any, what overpowers

 

is the stench of rotting flesh and organs:

Chanel de Cadaver, Bouquet Putrid,

Carrion Mystique,

Essence de Carcass, Versense Pew, Allure Impossible,

 

luring every bug in the vicinity to the

reek, unable to resist entering the

rank volcano

of this hotty, and presto, another sprouts in a week.

 

Meanwhile, the forests of Sumatra and

Borneo are being cleared. Ergo the corpse

flower also.

 

Saint Helena’s Olive

Far-fetched that plants feel pain,

but there’s evidence, the experts

say they can learn, process and

retain;

 

that they’ve intelligence in some

way. This one’s had it: St.

Helena’s Olive.

As soon as people settled to stay,

 

spread, this plant gave up the will to  survive.

Natural. But natural also that planters cut

all before them, needing somewhere to live,

 

to settle themselves. Too late 

by the time anybody got it together, 

grappled to keep the native alive, bust a

gut.

 

The seeds of this tree refused to flower,

their act of civil disobedience, flower

power.

 

Tarantula Hawk Wasp

Give us a break, man, you with your

inventory of whales crooning to one

another,

the society of bees, the scratched history

 

of bears, elephants mourning a dead

mother, the varying duet of the

babakoto,

the Saint Helena olives’ flower power.

 

You elect them denizens of a kind of

Paradiso. But consider the likes of a

particular wasp,

the Tarantula Hawk, straight out of the Inferno.

 

This one would make Hannibal Lecter gasp.

The wasp’s sting turns the tarantula into a

zombie, drugs and drags the spider off in its

relentless grasp,

 

lays an egg in the spider’s belly; the larva

methodically eats the host alive; more nature’s

norm than oddity.

 

Umbrellabird

You never saw anything like this

bird, black from coif to claw, with

looks to kill

(though ungainly in flight). But, what’s absurd

 

isn’t so much the unusual

hairstyle, which is less like a

man’s umbrella than an Elvis

quiff, driving many a girl

 

out of her tree, screeching for her fella,

nor is it his Elvis song, the testosterone

bass crooning longingly for his Priscilla.

 

But the instrument, and not just that, but the

place it arises from, his throat, a back-to-f

ront tail,

that opens into a feather duster when he plays

 

his well-endowed come-on, larger in the male,

a kind of didgeridoo, moaning, enticing the female.

 

The Voilá Grouse

“I’m pleased that we collectively continue to make great progress
on addressing threats to this bird, conserving
the sagebrush habitat
and providing a path forward for sustainable economic development.”
—US Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, Sep 21st, 2016

You should see their fancy

costumes: white ruffs, spectacular

fanned tails. And o-la-la, watch the

gallant grooms

 

strut their stuff, the puffed-up lek males

performing their version of a pole dance,

tucking in their bills, vying for the

females,

 

eyeing up their prospects, their chance

of a future. The future has some hope

now, thanks to Secretary Jewell taking

a stance.

 

The grouse is saved, the end of a protracted

row. The whole sage-swaying sea is singing

Hallelujah, along with the elk, pronghorn,

mule deer, sparrow.

 

Good news for all sheltered under this

umbrella, been blown inside out. Folks

spoke up and voilà!

 

Wheat

The old gods are defunct, but not the old

necessity to give thanks. This god spread

from the Levant forgotten religions ago,

bestowing prosperity.

 

He is goodness incarnate, the Midas

plant without the Midas curse, t

urning a field

into plains of swaying gold. He is our constant

 

from dawn to dawn, strength

concealed within burnished stalks

of energy, grounded goodness

variously revealed.

 

This great shape-changer: the deity

of cereal, pasta, bread, the English

taco has more lives than Buddha. We

 

become him, where he grows we

grow, rising each morning,

leavened dough.

 

X 

Surely there are others in your life who

make you feel worthwhile, are a safe

haven. I am lucky enough to have a

staple few.

 

And now this other, a befriending

dolphin I swam out deep again to

meet. I can’t tell

even myself what I felt when I first saw the fin

 

slice through the surface, the swell,

then to see this undine, stock-still at my feet.

We looked each other in the eyes for well

 

over ten seconds (nay, millennia). Such a

sweet, kind gaze. I wonder what he made

of me

in only my pelt and goggles. What a treat

 

to be allowed kiss his grinning forehead before he

undulated back across Dingle Bay, the channel’s

Lethe.

 

Y

is the divining stick, wishbone, question 

why one y rather than another why:

the yak, the y tree, the yellow-eyed penguin

 

or the myriad y insects who crawl

and fly we know nothing of, nor will

ever know? The links break from

alpha, beyond why.

 

You mention the Yaque chub, a

minnow, or Yaque catfish sporting

Chinese whiskers, both Yaques

depending on the slow flow

 

of Yaque River. According to Surem elders

–the last to speak Yaque, Yoeme Niki,

Hiaki

(And where do languages go when they die, others

 

on the brink?)– the Surem’s goddess, Yumululi,

speaks for The Great Tree, divines our future

history.

Zanzibar Leopard

The descriptions of the leopard and its habits are characterized by the widespread notion that wavyale (witches) sent them to harm villagers and were thus killed on sight. After the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964 there was a leopard-cleansing campaign which sealed the leopard’s extinction. 

Kill Evil incatinate. Kill kill kill

the Zanzibar Leopard, this island devil,

this vampire vermin, obeying witch-will,

 

dispatched by the wavyale  to bedevil

villages. You know the old strategy:

demonize and the demonizer will revel

 

in playing God, the paw of the Almighty.

This leopard survived since the ice age,

slowly shrunk itself into dwarf-cat royalty,

 

even changed its spots, but couldn’t manage

to outwit human categorizing. Yes, it is daft,

but this cat’s hardly likely to be found in cage

 

or ruling the night-forest now. When statecraft

bands with religion there’s no better witchcraft.

 

Zayante

There’s something off about talk of the land

as a person. It’s more a moody personality

that you insecurely sense, project,

understand

 

via the osmosis of yourself, your

ability 

to shape change, the abracadabra

matching outside to within. Take Zayante,

 

home of the slender gilia, Bonny Doon mazanita, 

coast-horned lizard, band-winged grasshopper,

Ben Lomond spine flower, June beetle, ponderosa,

 

everlasting, kangaroo rat, all going without a

whimper. 

Folks’ needs, comforts, fears up the ante.

The development night by day grows grimmer.

 

Which ciao —hi or bye– will it be on Planet

Zayante?

Enough Gregorian cant. We are done. Adelante.

~~~~~~~~