Great Big Green Week – Day Six
Fugitive in the Date Palm
It is hard to ignore the red-billed toucan.
Solomon says his bill is chipped like an old teacup
but we see the translucence of the deglet noor,
its caramelised sunlight.
After the stripping of thorn and billowing
of pollen across the plantation,
he blew in on a salt wind through the canyons,
beak bright as paintpots,
took shelter in the branches,
peeped at us with his blue eye from the canopy
while donkeys grazed determinedly below
oblivious to his dipping and tilting.
Solomon says he’s an escapee from a sultan’s
menagerie; we feed him pomegranate, mango,
leaving them in quiet acts of worship
at the foot of his favourite palm.
We know he is lonely, thousands of miles
of desert and ocean from home.
We call to him while we hang on ladders
wrapping the khlal in muslin.
Evenings, he hops about chuntering
at shadows, then curls into a feathered ball
secured by his great beak,
We think he dreams deep jungle:
Costa Rican mists, the whirring of moths
and pop of frogs, another red-billed toucan
hidden, waiting, in the forest gloom.
Solomon says one day, maybe he’ll set off
like a beacon, winging over Egypt, Libya,
Nigeria, the South Atlantic.
He prays for the fruits to ripen,
sweet rutab to delay his leaving,
checks on him each morning, peering
up into the leaves, his crippled toes sinking
in the warm sand.
We ease you open.
Hinged to each valve,
a pale tongue rooted in silence
tears from its mantle.
You slacken and still.
A clear liquid oozes lustre
gleaned from ocean salt.
Muscle and foot, we scrape you
out, put you to one side,
globby and unfortunate.
Such is fate.
Carved into your shell
we find trade routes, the wake
of explorers, contours of underwater
mountains, the migratory patterns
We measure the scrawled ridges,
scribbled centuries of silt and swell,
share tales – the ancients
of the deep:
on a fairground tail-slap swirl;
turritopsis dohrnii, aspic thimbles,
their eternal cycle of drifting light;
horseshoe crabs caught by the tide
in halls of porous rock,
tails and spines shattered
by the blast.
We call you Ming.
You are older than this world
We wrap your gummy form
in polythene, keep it on ice.
Ming, the bivalve mollusc was ‘born’ in 1499, meaning it was swimming in the oceans before Henry VIII took the English throne. It was unfortunately killed by researchers when they opened its shell to find out how old it was.
-Jane Lovell (she says: Ming won this year’s Ginkgo Prize).
Portraits, Samoa 1853
I use pens whittled from pointed bones,
quills and picks of tortoiseshell,
to draw their innocence:
angels appearing in a white sky,
black angels ground from bullets,
smoke of charred wood and candlenut,
their features, sepia drawn from ink sacs
of cuttlefish, the thin brown
of old blood scratched on cotton.
They come, warm skin strung with beads
and feathers, meandering tidelines of salt,
kneel in the sand, teach me the old tales:
that birds carry a piece of the land you miss
as a song, notes held in their mouths
on their sharp-leaf tongues.
I listen to their stories,
surround them with charcoal waves,
channels swimming with turtles,
coral blown through tiny bones.
They know I must leave soon.
We have gathered nutmeg, papaya, guava
seedlings rooted in packets of sand.
I scribe their names, put away my books.
High above the beach, great nets blow
with the day’s catch: lupe, knots of finch,
the last few still fluttering.
Swimming Reindeer, British Museum
The figure in front is a female, with her smaller frame
and antlers. Watch her.
She is swimming the Aveyron with her head back, ears flat,
taking in the dizzy autumn air along her stippled length.
Eyes on the far bank and a skyline of chestnuts,
she kicks away the eels and navigates the current.
The male, chin resting on her haunch,
breathes heavily, catches his hooves
on unexpected rocks.
gris, amarillo filters
on the field next door
the one trying to grow back invasive weeds
the one threatening to build a house so it is
no longer a beautiful field changing seasons for quail
It is about the wildfire smoke we have in August.
Polar bear as the ice is melting:
So, maybe I’m the bear,
and the fear I see is my fear,
and the bewilderment is mine.,
as if I’m swimming hard
in a dissolving world, where all
those age-old certainties are melting –
that the world is ours,
that I am good,
that this place is bountiful,
and beautiful, and bottomless.
Maybe we’re all the bear,
realising that our home is shrinking
to a small space that can’t support
our weight, can’t feed us,
but we can’t step on
and the world is screaming.
The truth is that
the bear is the bear.
She swims on. I don’t know
if she feels hope, or fear,
and I can’t claim her
as a metaphor. She’s flesh and blood
and bones protruding,
and the ice is melting.
(Previously published in the Poets’ Choice Global Warming Issue)
Can drive anyone
To desperation, and
And toil are
Known thieves of time.
Then, while greed
Eats the garden you grew
For your family,
But don’t we
All have plenty of
Bios And Links
is an award-winning poet whose work focuses on our relationship with the planet and its wildlife. Her latest collection This Tilting Earth is published by Seren. She is Writer-in-Residence at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. Her new collection ‘God of Lost Ways’ is forthcoming from Indigo Dreams Press later this year.
Jane has won the Flambard Prize (2015), the Wigtown Poetry Prize (2018), the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize (2020) and the Ginkgo Prize (2020). She has been shortlisted for several other literary awards including the Basil Bunting Prize, the Robert Graves Prize and Periplum Book Award and has recently been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
Publications include ‘Metastatic’ (Against the Grain), ‘One Tree’ (Night River Wood), ‘Forbidden’ (Coast to Coast to Coast), ‘This Tilting Earth’ (Seren Books) and ‘The God of Lost Ways’ (Indigo Dreams Press).
Jane also writes for Dark Mountain, Elementum Journal and Photographers Against Wildlife Crime.
She lives in Kent and is Writer-in-Residence at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.
You can contact Jane at email@example.com