Marianne Boruch
Six Bestiary Poems

A Prologue

                                                                                                                                      

His thought #1: The world, is it finite?  Pliny the Elder

on what he saw and heard, 37 "books" to

round that up, early C.E. as he

proceeded to be infinite. His Naturalis. His Historia.

First bestiary ever in Book 8. Land life  

and sea life and through-the-air and underground life.

Same as now. Only ancient—the one thing

Pliny never imagined: he'd be ancient.

 

We watched the Cassowary go famously

scary beside an ordinary house in Queensland,

a Tasmanian Devil road-leap on cue, at dusk,

Carmen on the radio west of Hobart, the Lyric Opera

all the way from Chicago to that end of the Earth.

When you see a Platypus love his mud

as he does, what happens? 

Or while the Echidna slips into grass as into a pocket. 

And Kangaroos, Wallabies lying down to

their regal so what as brilliant birds span out overhead

without number.

 

You think this world doesn't know things? I asked the fires

from a distance. Did you think you can

do any damn thing you want?

 

Like asking a mad bad baby to fix cars or not eat

pablum or be a sweet polite cry in the night.

 

 

Not Exactly What Dante Thought 

 

his “hopeless, pathless, lightless woods forgot.” 

I mean by dawn pre-fire and flood,

gum trees in their striptease

down to bare yellowish skin took sunlight cold like you

starve a fever until I almost believed the planet

 

clear-eyed enough to make

the southern-half claim: autumn in May!

Season wildly misplaced,

its leaves gold or red when they

should be back to buds, a beginning, a rabble-rousing.

Spring, for Christ’s sake! I got so mixed up.

 

Poetry = a tree Dante hollowed out and stepped inside to wait.

 

Pliny's first measure. The Roman world

hoarded up, full

                           Of venomous and poisonfull honey

                           Of the glo-worms

                           Of the Smell of good ground

                           Of Wolves, Of Dogges, Of Swine

                              and their natures

 

Things soaked and way under

surely recounted no matter how I mis-imagine.

 

But you must un-imagine, sang the Archangel from trees,

Pliny's real

                   Dolphins, Sperm and Killer Whales,

                                   purple fishes,

                   his many-foot fish, sea-nettle fishes, other

                                  nastie and filthie creatures

                                                                                                

caught, kept for real in the middle of his brain, 77 CE.

Hell of a guy with eyes and ears

in that boat at Pompei.

                                      That Pliny, too bad about dying as

 

a mountain spewed fire, the Archangel crooned

old-school, like Sinatra.

                                                                                                                              

 

History: a who-done-it, a lie, a prayer, a questionnaire.

 

1)  Did fish dive deeper at Pompeii, its mountain imploding? 

2)  Does close looking change any first or final thing? 

3)  What does ache itself ache for?

 

(You, said the Elder first week, what makes you think you

can write about our animals?)

 

In fact, Pliny's boat, sinking sideways

with his weight, what he knew inside the load he wrought was

 

                            everything + all of it so far

 

as he was able, as long as he was able--

 

Desperate steaming harbor where

fumes went lethal. He breathed in all right. No, I don't

picture it quiet.

.                           But water should be soothing,

                            boats should make it okay

 

to the other side, even in rain

lit as lightning.  All those shoulds,

 

             like that great bushfire in Canberra years ago  

 

should have taken out every huge Eucalyptus: did

and did not, so many charred lower trunks we saw, the gutted

should-be-but-aren't just stumps.

                                                       I looked up.

Leaves still sprang off new branches--

a trick, a WHAAAAAT!?—

To come back from the dead.  A how-in-the-world?

is hope. Of a sort. Of a sort….

 

Really?  How many lives are we given, how much

happenstance in us? What the hell time is it?

 

Ask the platypus. Ask that patchwork of creature

that can't keep its species straight.

 

The archangel shrugged, look at me!  I'm part bird too!

 My wings wing out like a goddamn

cockatoo’s, note my spiky

yellow crest up there—more sulfur-esque by the minute,

best yellow ever….   

                                 Cheeky hybrid wanna-be,

 

taking a glorious bird's name in vain,

all celestial-glow about it.

 

 

True, the Archangel's Voice -- Almost the Same 

 

as the cockatoo’s shriek, flight-wise and leaf-sick,

a tree-to-tree that shatters. 

Like its cousin's too,

                                   red-tailed and black--

                                   

"the flying bolt-cutter"—John the Bird Whisperer

spotted it gnawing through a branch.

John who walked with us, showed us secret places of

feather and burrow, river and rock.

 

Or was that archangel's pitch and moan

the Australian Raven's unheavenly ca and ca,

its beaten child’s

caaaaaa trailing off to

little bone-piles of nothing--

 

Those (hopeless, lightless, pathless) nights the old

go their last, done-in, the final

sliver of knowing anything on earth is

erase erase. Just another death.

 

So tracks an archangel’s eye from great heights.

 

That terrible caaaa

downslurring from trees or streets narrowed by

every car's slow, distracted start.

 

Eating supper by the window we thought

a real child out there.

We thought to call someone.

                                                                                                                    

Meanwhile the Name -- Koala -- Means 

 

in what tongue, whose mouth and DNA,

through how many eons?

 

Poetry, ditto. Buried business of tongue, DNA back

to seas parting, continents shifting, how

long it's been and what's to come. 

 

(Weren't the fires listening, just waiting at that point?)

 

Ko-al-a!  Look it up, idiot, the Archangel roused me.

What do you

mortal hybrids say now?  Google it--

                                                            you bone & flesher,

part shiny-metal-jointer-in-failed-sockets,

reckless bias-machine from

your too-little-time to know anything, brain dissolving

with getting older.  What's age to me?--a hybrid

eons before Uluru got to be Uluru,

before scat began telling the likes of you things like

who is who out all night

scrounging food though in fact

 

that's private, that's none of your beeswax!

 

I nodded to the tiny mites feasting

in his gorgeous hair as he

walked away. Classic archangel braggadocio! 

 

I did look it up: Koala, an Indigenous word for no water.

There they were, up in trees only eating leaves.

 

Koala scary dream #7: Fur on fire

 

 

Friends, Stop. This Happened, I Swear

 

before terrible fires impressed

         their little Pentecostal tongues of flame

         all over the internet map like

         a holy card hallucinates,         

 

before both the brave and the timid wore

         gasmasks to bed.

 

Friends, this was pre-fire, pre-knitting of mittens

        for dazed burnt Koalas,

 

before poets began watering the bees,

 

before the floods finally came,

before present turned past to reconfigure a future.

 

Medieval enough, going dark, this nowhere-else

all of them:  Platypus, Koala, Emu on the run,

Echidna spiked as grass that lies back

in wind or rain, steady multiple Kangaroos,

Wallabies upright or lying

sideways as if at a company picnic downing

martinis in the grassy expanse.

 

We hiked to see the rock paintings. We sat

for a while a few yards

from some Roos in the shadow of

their afternoon. An old female

pressed forward on those little arms to rise,

to try to rise.

 

We—full speed ho-hum to them, so nothing at all

in the next patch of gum trees.

Solidarity, sister! She

was me and we

were us--bad joints need oil, cross species—

as she hitched herself up. 

         

                  Recollect is to rescue,

                  to invite back the plain astonishments.

.

     That's the dream, to get away, is it not?   We'll sit, we'll

      walk happily to find the rock wall they painted

      a thousand years back, to go back….

 

Open your book, Pliny, still at it at it as if

that raised roar of earth at Pompeii never kept raging,

as if fires in Australia skipped the loved places.

 

 

 

 

 

Found In Volume 49, No. 06
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Marianne Boruch
About the Author

Marianne Boruch's ten poetry collections include The Anti-Grief (Copper Canyon, 2019). Last year she was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Australia, observing the astonishing wildlife to write a book-length sequence, a neo-ancient/medieval bestiary forthcoming from Copper Canyon.