The Extinction Sonnets (2006, Unpublished)

Acknowledgements

Poems in this collection have previously appeared in Australian Literary Review, Best Australian Poems 2008, Best Australian Poetry 2005, Best Australian Poetry 2009, Blackmail Press (NZ), City of Port Philip Bay website, Cordite, dotdotdash, Divan, Dreamers, shapers, Singers and makers – accidental readings anthology, Going Down Swinging, HEAT, Hutt, In the criminal’s cabinet anthology (US), Island, Meanjin, nthposition (US), Overland, Plumwood Mountain, Red Room Company – the disappeared project, Some Sonnets anthology, The Age, Water and in the 2nd Wellington International Poetry Festival anthology (NZ).

Astro Boy and R2D2 & C3P0 were placed 1st in the 2003 Cordite/City of Port Philip Bay -Robo Poems competition.

This collection was kindly supported by a Project Grant from Arts Queensland in 2006.

Many thanks must go to Melissa Ashley, Paul Hardacre and Marissa Newell for their work in promoting new contemporary poetry in its many forms.

For Harriet: who generations rode & who rode generations.

 

 

Contents

 

Natura

Aurochs

Black-Throated Finch

Burmese Black-Lipped Bullfrog

Cambodian Horned Squirrel

Carolina Parakeet

Christmas Island Rat

Coelacanth

Cuban Tiny Cobra

Darling Downs Hopping Mouse

Dire Wolf

Dodo

Elephant Bird

Falklands Island Wolf

Gastric-Brooding Frog (Northern & Southern)

Giant Galapagos Tortoise

Giant Galapagos Tortoise (ii)

Giant Moa

Giant Saipan Scorpion

Giant Unicorn

Great Auk

Haast’s Eagle

Huia

Lesser Bilby

Lord Howe Island Phasmid, Land Lobster

Lungfish

Night Parrot

Orange-Bellied Parrot

Paradise Parrot

Passenger Pigeon

Pig-Footed Bandicoot

Prickly Pear

Quagga

Ryukyu Kingfisher

Steller’s Sea Cow

Stephen’s Island Wren

The Last Hammerhead

Tasmanian Tiger

Tibetan Pygmy Panda

Wake Island Rail

 

 

Kultura

Anterior Dispersion Segment Disorder

Asterisk

Astro Boy

Ballet

Black Cowboy Hat

Bowenville

Caligula’s Barges

Constantinople

Cool Bananas

Davros & the Daleks

Drive-In

Flow My Tears the CS-X Said

HAL 9000

K-9

Lucy

Megatron

05

Pleasure Beast

R2D2 & C3P0

Robby, the Robot

Small Miracles

The Big Woosh

The Borg

The Robot (Lost in Space)

Twiggy

Tirkana Boy

Warren Dionysius

Wattle Park, Events

 

 

 

1. natura

 

 

 

Aurochs

Bos primigenius

 

Primeval oxen, we stamped our authority over Holocene

Europe – wicked, curved horns fed homegrown superstition.

We provided the template for your early religion – bull gods

You worshipped first, our physique you believed deity given.

We intersected with you around 6000BC. Domesticity altered

Both our species – you had the brains, we had the brawn; this

First discourse of binary opposition, took root in old Cretan

Legend. Leapt over us you did, for sport & recreation, we

Enjoyed your company up until 1627. Last games in Poland.

German engineering almost brought us back, but that slick

Polishing missed our essence & horn length. Heck’s Cattle

We became – a lesser attempt to recreate our former glory.

Now all we’re left on are wallpapers – caves & computers.

Your new magic may revive us, but that is another story.

 

 

Black-Throated Finch

Poephila cincta Estrildidae

 

By the pool, their fingernail-sized gullets undulate briskly

As if they are guilty celebrities scoffing a midnight treat,

Their black cravats panting with excitement. They can’t

Stay in this kitchen heat for long; fluent in the language

Of dehydration, a fast tipple or else they’re dumbstruck.

Their image burned into extinction’s cyclopean retina,

As if this fragile flock gazed into the sun directly, or they

Were a picnic of ants fried by a bully’s magnifying glass.

The dam water is a current running through their bodies;

It sets off the electricity of their flight, as one they scatter

To the air, like a handful of wedding rice. Their fall might

Weigh as much; in the billionaire’s thoughts he’s ripped

Out the earth’s coal-black throat; the box trees cut open

Like rich sediment. Their habitat halved like a seed cake.

 

 

Burmese Black-Lipped Bullfrog

 

If the West were let in, we’d be the Frank ‘N Furters

Of the amphibian world – black lipsticked mouths

On the prowl for evolution’s democratic buzzword.

Amoral, bi-sexual fraternisation between parties only

Enhances the underground’s reputation for risqué.

Burma’s a cult classic. But double feature picture shows

Are banned & only documentaries capture us, a species

Under house arrest, we couldn’t keep up with the general

Speak. Ecology protection last on the cadres’ list of ten

Things to do before they die. We were frogmarched out

Of the final scene, rainforests time-warped into rice

Paddies, a Medusa Switch had us on generational hold.

We were often confused with the Chiang Mai flat-footed

Canetoad; a dictatorial sub-species, more firmly rooted.

 

 

Carolina Parakeet

Conuropsis carolinensis

 

Spaces we once haunted; from New York’s

Curved beak to Florida’s elegant tail feather

Of a peninsula, we nested in hollows in tall trees

That succumbed to your height racism. We were

Loyal medics who returned to care for our wounded

Amidst the death of our comrades. You shot us too

Like war criminals, the red sign on our heads didn’t

Stop the slaughter. Cincinnati Zoo took the last refugees

In. Their aviary was cursed by haints. ‘Martha’ died here

Four years earlier when her company was annihilated.

‘Incas’ went the way of the indigenous; stolen home,

Exploited land, raised by white carers who could not

Heal the brokenness. When you finally recognised our

Rights it was too late; poultry flu finished us off forever.

 

 

Cambodian Horned Squirrel

 

We went the way of Kampuchea, linguistically dead

& buried before the West fully understood the nature

of our demise. An Asian offshoot of our red & grey

brothers but black clad, same bushy tail, same friskiness,

Nutters for seeds & fruits you still haven’t discovered.

What happened to us? We had no safe parks to inhabit.

The pet shop boys claimed us, haute couture too. Hats

For French ladies gawking on des Champs-Elysées.

Our miniature satyr horns ground down for old men.

This organic aphrodisiac our most famous revolution.

Saw-milling completed our natural coup d’état. Wood

Chips spat disaster; the last of us died in Wellington Zoo.

The killing fields, after all, are a human invention.

& skulls piled high mark our communal Year 1.

 

 

Christmas Island Rat

Rattus macleari

 

We were worried about what you would bring

Into our country of nests & dark burrows, intrigues

You could only guess at. A nation of rodents brawling

All night, we encouraged high-pitched wars & rapid

Coupling, but kept those red land crabs in check.

It was the vanguard you sent ahead that finished us.

Not our black brethren who swarmed new continents

Walking planks to explore the world through a rat’s

Tunnel vision. But the other refugees they carried.

Diseases that pushed like railroads through virgin

Bloodstreams. If only you could have been processed

Offshore on some other ocean rock & kept at claws

Length in mandatory detention. Not perfect, but it

Would’ve given us time to think up a (s)pacific solution.

 

 

Coelacanth

Latimeria chalumnae

 

As if we’d tell you our deepest guild secret.

Woven tight as a mantle of dark blue scales

Passed down from generations; banded by

The coral lace of the covert Indian Ocean.

Instead, we staged our genetic comeback.

First we sent on bone letters, silver gelatin

Plates that you processed as stone records.

Our species commandment; live in rocker

Obscurity, don’t alter much; avoid modern

Comparisons. Netted by a random sweep,

& a keen eye for nuance, our ancient lobe

Fin poked out from a midden of tropical

Fish & we became scientifically famous.

Formaldehyde framed, we made a killing.

 

 

Cuban Tiny Cobra

 

Cigar length, this island habitually snipped off

The ends of animals like a fine Havana stogie

The Cuban tiny frog our meal ticket mostly gone

By the time revolution upended the status quo,

Bay of Pigs fiasco & Brigade 2506 annihilated too.

A failed beachhead no place for exiled venom,

Our numbers vanished like American air support

No CIA backed scientists came to our rescue.

On the scale of things we were way down on

The imperial list of 101 species to overthrow.

Communists in the southern hemisphere, in

Kennedy’s cross-hairs, a missile crisis face-off

& our plight buried in back page news. Know

This, extinction is a counter-revolutionary too.

 

 

Darling Downs Hopping Mouse

Notomys mordax

 

You wouldn’t have known us but for a single skull

Found in the nineteenth century, but all that really

Told you is that we had a brain once & a face too.

The rest you’ve had to work out for yourselves.

Like our copious habit for mating on grass stems

Our night passion bending blades until the climax

Touched ground; fervor earthed in the deep, black

Darling Downs soil. Landfucking you’d call it, an

Exchange of sex-knowledge among mammal species.

Lucky then, our skull wasn’t discovered in those owl

Pellets like our cousin’s was; think of the inter-species

Innuendo that would’ve spread. Our preoccupation

With sex usurped by death eventually, all Nazis those

Pests & as for our extinction – we hopped right to it!

 

 

Dire Wolf

Canis dirus

 

We were going along okay when you upped

& changed the status quo, our super-sized

Menu died off through your public meddling.

Your nutritional requirements affected us direly,

Our epoch had evolved the first Atkins Diet, all

Protein enriched, low carbs but you killed that fad.

Pride. That’s what tipped it. Slower than gray wolves

We had to scavenge for a living. Our frames couldn’t

Keep up with the new, trendy runners. Too heavy in

The jaw from eating all those giant bison. Desire ruled

In the end, if some prey got trapped in a tar pit, we lost

Our heads & hides. Pack stupid. We inhabit your darkest

Memories. Programmers get us. Now only noobs fear.

For we hunt again in electronic forests; pixel hungry.

 

 

Dodo

Raphus cucullatus

 

Okay, so we’re famous for all the wrong reasons,

Our ancestors shed their energy expense & settled

On Mauritius – selection did the rest & our wings

Pared back. Portuguese found us, forest dwelling

We were both food & amusement for European

Lunch breaks. Paid for our round the world trip

By eating stones in all the grand capitals, but our

Bodies were farcical, beaks delivered a nasty bite.

Once the tour was over, bird comedy dead, more

Serious matters took hold, Dutch landlords moved

In. Your domesticity ended our talent show & tired

Of shitting rocks, we invaded your mother tongue.

Carved out a comfy niche in your lingual evolution.

A new grammatical species took over – dodo idiom.

 

 

Elephant Bird

Aepyornis maximus

 

We came from the greatest single cells ever to be thought

Into existence, larger than dinosaur eggs our shells cracked

Open your legends, your mouthwatering myths imagined us

Hauling off elephants; heavy-lift choppers. The East named

Us Roc; who messed about with Sinbad & we probably

Were a little imposing for you, standing at a little over 10ft,

Weighing in at half a tonne. Big Bird’s streetwise prototype.

Then Marco Polo, that intrepid reporter of misquoted facts

Named us Elephant Bird. Now that hurt. How would he have

Liked us to call him ‘lemur-man’? Coastline huggers came next;

French too scared to pick through our deepest secrets gave us

Pirates’ status – a lost treasure by the 16th century. Voromapatra

In the Malagasy tongue – ‘marsh bird’, fitting really, for we sought

The most lonely places of all; at least your imagination took flight.

 

 

Falkland Islands Wolf

Dusicyon australis

 

How we got here nobody knows; Holocene men

Shipped us over for company on the long voyage?

When they died out, we just dug burrows & bred.

Then the uprights returned with other fur-kind,

Our palette picked up; canine instincts kicked in.

Next Darwin’s specialised hand stroked our coat;

He said our lack of fear would be the death of us.

US fur hunters took up his radical belief; offered

Fresh meat; blame racial memory, so cut-throat.

The old world tags were the hardest to hide from,

European fears projected onto us, shape-changing

Vampire. Scottish settlers finished it; superstitions

Fueled burning & poison; expediency torpedoed us:

A General Belgrano of bad luck our political death.

 

 

Gastric-Brooding Frog (Southern & Northern)

Rheobatrachus silus & Rheobatrachus vitellinus

 

Our story is so Greek, a classic tale of misadventure.

The tragedy is that you’ve missed it all most probably.

None of you witnessed our godlike qualities but we’ll

Share them anyhow. Our little ones sprung fully-formed

From our mouths (we know, so Chronus spitting out

His eccentric brood). The last Southern captive died in

1984 – George Orwell’s prediction only affected us. Then

You discovered our Northern offspring…too late as usual.

A first contact we’re still reeling from: amphibious rights?

The debate still rages; did we swallow our eggs or tadpoles?

A hormone stopped juices; some sacrificed for the many!

What killed us? Rising temperatures? Moisture drying out

At altitude? We were slimy canaries for global warming. Or

Perhaps like Zeus’ clutch, we turned on our kin & ate them.

 

Giant Galapagos Tortoise

Geochelone elephantopus

 

He who put his hands around my plate-size

Self is extinct now. Dry short lives you lot.

Sapas Humana your dream-sea’s in drought.

My soft egg yesterdays, my beak-shears snip.

Not like your nail scissor type, selected out

By international flight, your box-cutter RIP.

Days I crossed. Galapagos, Cold English,

Terra Nullius, witnessed your species self-

Mutilation twice. As you died, I only grew.

Survived your fashions, your skin theories.

My advice: carry your own home with you.

Outgrew his shell-size I think. Mr Darwin.

Now I’m with Steve Irwin at Australia Zoo.

I Harriet, time-lord tortoise, outlive him too.

 

 

Giant Galapagos Tortoise (ii)

Geochelone elephantopus

 

So my grand prediction was a little askew.

You outlived me in the end; a human touch

Only two months eleven days separated us

From our hyped celebrity. Maybe you had

To follow my new path to a starry waterfall;

Clusters of shell-thin galaxies, grazing on

Hibiscus coloured nebulas, the beak shears

Curvature of space oddity. After 176 years

Of earth hugging & scraping dirt over old

Memories I was due this last voyage. We

Both got it in the heart; time’s hooked barbs

Reversed so you can’t pull them out. We’ve

Dematerialised beyond time & space. Yes, a

Poor Galifreyan I made, but then so did you.

 

Harriet died June 23 2006

Steve Irwin died 04 September 2006

 

 

Giant Moa

Dinornis novaezealandiae.

 

Hardly surprising from a country that led the world

In gender reform, women’s voting rights & bi-cultural

Cooperation that our secret would finally be prised out.

Molecular sexing put the record straight: we wore the

Pants in our relationship with men, emasculated giants;

They nursed eggs while we engaged in wicked behaviour –

Stone swallowing tricks, bush stripping; once were winged

But gave that away – a bit annoying like an undersized

Husband, besides we enjoyed the sex imbalance & ruled

The roost. We caught a whiff of you, couldn’t miss your

Bipedal motions. Your gut & art worked against us, eggs

Served both purposes, decorative & delicious you impinged

On our marital status. Made us widows & finally old maids.

Our hubbies after all were loyal, but stupid sitting ducks.

 

 

Giant Saipan Scorpion

 

To the innate island of extinction we belong; an

Arachnid species, & if you include the sting in our tail,

We weighed in at three feet long. We fed on dead bats

Mostly, that dropped from the sky of the mind, but other

Hungers killed us. As for that mystery concerning Amelia

Earhart & her disappearance, we can wrap that up for you.

She landed on the wrong foot, ours, & poison did the job.

Then Japanese troops lived off us, see, they occupied our

Caves, riding the crest of near annihilation long after the war

Had stopped, but their bayonet sting was longer, appetites

Superior, & once you removed our hard shell, we were egg

Yolk soft & stewed with roots. Yet, like these guerillas we

Had vanished by 1952; new golf course fantasies erupted.

A final surrender to the inevitable conclusion: war is over.

 

 

Giant Unicorn

Elasmotherium sibiricum

 

Magical prototype for princesses obsessed

With their looks, chastity & good works we

Stood two metres high, six metres long, our

Horn blossomed two metres from our forehead.

Mythology slimmed us down; the ultimate weight

Loss regime, we recommend it for your species

When the time comes & you’re examined from

Skull fragments & bone stories. We stuck to steppe-

Grass which helped with body fat control, though

We tipped the scales at five tonnes. Those Russians

Remembered us, such woolly thoughts your species

Have, equating us with virginity too – how else do

You think we survived those cold, Siberian nights!

We don’t hold to your white unicorn view of history.

 

 

 

Great Auk

Pinguinus impennis

 

You slept on us mostly -Vikings invented the mattress

& needed stuffing, otherwise Old Norse spines ended up

As museum pieces. Geirfugl you named us, which could

Translate as ‘a good nights sleep’. We linguistically trail-

Blazed the march of penguins long before you discovered

Their southern spot; we meant ‘fat’ in Latin, which was an

Open invite to berserkers & fishermen alike. We laid one

Egg a year & spent our days swimming in the ocean’s yolk.

When we were nothing more than legend collectors dove in.

We ended up an Icelandic saga. Three heroes topped us off –

Brandsson, Islefsson and Ketilsson sent to recover specimens

& eggs finished up with the lot. As Fenrir the Wolf licked our

Feathers, a permanent winter set in. By 1844 it was all over.

As extinctions go, ours was a mild enough Ragnorak.

 

 

Haast’s Eagle

Harpagornis moorei

 

The land of the long white cloud was ruled by birds.

For centuries we had air superiority, our nose dives

Shattered moa pelvis, broke feathered neck-chains.

Super heavy weights of cold, southern cartography.

Pursuits were no problem, our shortened Corsair

Wings made us forest maneuverable, the flightless

Grazers died feeding our taloned homogeneity.

World’s fastest weight gain – we grew Roc-sized.

We’ve always known that speed kills, didn’t you?

Then you came out of nowhere, your surface to

Surface missiles more efficient; hard to pull out

Of those terminal descents. In your position we

Would have feared too, our bipedal assault broke

Down: you ate our ammo & our weapons jammed.

 

 

Huia

Heteralocha acutirostris

 

Perhaps out of all of us you are the greatest mimics.

Copying status habits from everyone else; our white-

Tipped black tail feathers too good to pass up & worn

Taonga-treasure of chiefs & eighteenth-century warlords.

We were inquisitive by nature & came when you whistled

Our names, thinking it bad manners not to accept a social

Invitation when presented. A species faux pas, our evolution

Hadn’t considered. Later Pakeha women, abreast of fashion,

Took up the habit & social standing killed us, a class war on

Natives, we glittered on brooches; preserved by plastination.

The Grand Old Duke of York staved our race in circa 1902.

After he wore our tail feather in his regal hatband, the craze

Ripped through New Zealand & he was made King George.

So like the Crown Jewels we’re behind glass, protected at last.

 

 

Lesser Bilby

Macrotis leucura

 

You were so confused, but then so were we.

Rabbits you thought us, on first impressions,

Then our nasty little temperament bit through.

Rodents we preyed on, so un-rabbit like, so

Unlike Peter with his naughty habits of human

Baiting. We became fox food, floor rugs; ironic

Since those coneys out-competed us, their broods

Superior, their ears cuter somehow? They received

Easter Bunny largesse; nursery rhyme cultural capital.

Lolly companies bank-rolled their cause, your species’

Sweet teeth too. We narrate all this from the hollow

Memory of a skull found lying at the base of wedge-

Tailed eagle’s nest in 1967. The referendum on our

Extinction was carried; cursed rabbit gerrymander.

 

 

Lord Howe Island Phasmid, Land Lobster

Dryococelus australis

 

We fled from terror. Black rats migrated onto

Lord Howe from shipwrecks & we fed their

Ravaging colonial instincts. Without contradiction

There can be no life, so a thicket of us hitched

A ride on driftwood & by the mercy of the moon

We managed to find landfall; refugees who had

Turned themselves into sticks. This sheer peak

Was almost barren, but for a scraggly melaleuca

Shrub which had like us, held the gate against

The fittest surviving. We were rescued again;

Years later, still a small outpost on the edge of

Civilisation, our shit led you to us. Surely our

Near miss is a cautionary tale? Don’t you see?

There’s no captive breeding program for you.

 

 

Lungfish

Neoceratodus forsteri

 

Log-shaped, we slept in the vein of your rivers

For a100 million years, our cells forming both

Gills & slow lungs like a sword smith’s bellows.

The F-111 of the lungfish world, our radical

Design endured generations, one sleek eel tail,

Lobe fins where our legs once stalked through

Plant chaos. Overlapping scales from the saga

Of St George, we appeared more armoured

Than necessary, but outlived our predators

As oceans rose & fell. Surprised then I was,

To be hooked by you when I was dreaming

In the Coomera River. Full of tiny bones, you

Disarmed my natural defences, ground me up

For fish cakes; made an easy meal of millennia.

 

 

Night Parrot

Pezoporus occidentalis

 

We’re the kind of bird that gets poets going,

Our cult status assured, we’re the half-mythical,

Anti-institutional un-parrot like animal, night-

Addicted, we need our Southern Cross fix like

Your kind need to argue existence, ours mainly.

We’re specialists in leaving you tantalising clues,

The outback’s full of bodies they say, we dumped

One for you by the side of the road, circa 1990.

No featherprints detected. Our death is a private

Matter, nightriders versus skywalkers – it’s a level

Playing field thing. We’ve learnt from experience

That your species can’t handle these half measures.

Perhaps, we only exist in your poetic imagination,

Not knowing is the worst; you poor, poor creatures.

 

 

Orange-bellied parrot

Neophema chrysogaster

 

This arrangement of their molecules is sliding apart

Like sand dusting down an eggtimer’s crystal throat.

They’ll come to an abrupt halt & form a tiny mound

Of bones to decorate the bitterness of the salt-marsh.

Their heat will radiate out into the night; other forms

Will be taken from them & prosper, as their flight-

Energy is recouped. Impossible to know; those swift

Last thoughts of a dying race; that flare, then watch

As the warmth dies & blackens like a spent match.

They ignite our desire; square up to death, the fear

Of the world living on without us. It will. Our time

Is already burnt. There is no difference between us,

Except how our cells unite. We’re all the same flock.

We’ll all fall out of the sky in death’s grand migration.

 

 

Paradise Parrot

Psephotus pulcherrimus

 

It was a scud that killed us: a Rockhampton Rocket

Or such. You don’t believe me? Officially they’ll put

It down to loss of understorey, clear felled Brigalow

Forest for cloven terrorists/plant helots that obeyed.

But who knows what happened better than the dead?

It was your Sunday tennis that did it. Your habit

For social interaction, district gossip, loam slide rules.

You didn’t think, but then we didn’t either. Stupid really

With all these trees around to build in termite mounds.

If only your species had selected grass or clay earlier.

Or played another sport? Indoor cricket? Darts?

We know one thing for sure. Don’t come to us

For advice on nest protection. We’ll drop a game

Or worse, choke: a species double fault.

 

 

Passenger Pigeon

Ectopistes migratorius

 

We spent a whole day winging by your window

Blue-feathered arrows that enchanted children.

So cloaked, that we shadowed you from the sun.

In legion we broke trees down, our species weight

Bent facts, five billion of us once monstered acorn,

Chestnut, rivers of the sky, we churned thermals

With our morse code hearts: we passed as thought.

Your hunger snapped us up, we fed your nesting

Instinct, great rookeries you built on hilltops west

Consuming forest & beech nut, crying forward!

Paradoxical then, that just as our kind winked out,

Zoo-poked one early September dawn, your species

Of mass destruction woke up & looking for someone

New to slaughter, turned your attention inward.

 

 

Pig-Footed Bandicoot

Chaeropus ecaudatus

 

We were found well short of our last hop.

Just out of your ecology’s popping crease,

Saddle-bagged across the protective box

Of a bull ant mound. Extinction frenzied

Their good fortune; tail fat winter stores,

Economies of energy transferred in secret

To the below vaults: cool millions prospered.

Our atom currency reorganised, generational

Debt shifted onto the young players. Our

Last wicket fell on the final ball of the day.

Hearts of ironbark ruled this bodyline series.

Cat & fox gamesmanship upset the old laws.

Our extended toe; desert sandshoe crushed.

We didn’t wait for your decision: walked.

 

 

Prickly Pear

Opuntia stricta spp.

 

We were like you, humans, glorious once.

Clogged up gullies, fenced in Moonee Creek.

Escapees from Euro-hedgerow, it was in our

Cells, naturally. Not our fault, when all we did

Was send down roots, strong tubers; our green-

Chip stocks rose. Our behaviour though, quite

Dense. Chinchilla plagued, as our fruit jam

Stewed your palette. But wool broke through.

Economics killed us. Ex-sailors, bladerunners

Hunted us down, your savage Height Australia

Policy, reverse husbandry; plain massacred.

Your inventiveness for murder is true. Brains

Beat us in the end. Found our stringy tendon.

Cactoblastis children left beautiful few.

 

 

Quagga

Equus quagga quagga.

 

You’re a weird mob alright, a species obsessed

With boom & bust cycles, ours in particular. First

You cleared us away for your four-legged friends –

After making a fortune on meat jerky & leather.

Concentration camp facilities you installed free

Of charge to regulate our demise, then confusion

Reigned as to who you were killing. Zebra brethren?

Native South African? Or somebody entirely new?

We were dead by the time you reached consensus.

So you turned to our DNA to solve the dilemma,

& hatched a scheme in some museum coffee shop.

Your Island of Doctor Moreau morbid fascination –

Experiment & start again. Breed us into existence?

At least you’ll have our name right in retrospection.

 

 

Ryukyu Kingfisher

Halcyon miyakoensis

Ah…this culture suited us down to a tree.

Avian Ronin, lordless, we served no one but

Ourselves, splitting the infinity of freshwater

Our beaks tempered steel folded a thousand times

In evolution’s forge. Pommel jewel eyes cut fish,

Our spirituality secure only on a risen stomach.

We were a whisper, a ghost in the shell of nature.

Echoes of us reverb in the single specimen you

Took; blood legs, blood bill, painted-warrior class.

We killed clinically, fluid death momentum held.

Honour bound us to end it all; ancient practice

Unfolded in dark canopies. Trees saw everything.

Bark writ; the scratches indecipherable to you.

We left your race little to ponder & halcyon days.

 

 

Steller’s Sea Cow

Hydrodamalis gigas

 

A throwback mermaid we must have appeared

To Stellar & his shipwrecked friends, ‘Sirenia’

They ordered us, part-anatomical, part-classical

Mistake. Least they got the cow chunk right, our

Meat tasted like beef, so they said, our fat fed oil

Lamps stopped the darkness spread. Stellar escaped

His wintry death, but our skins formed a chrysalis

Over boat frames & boots: so clever & industrious.

Our fame grew franchise like – a fast food chain

Mentality took hold of sailors & edible men, who

Hunted for the perfect burger, shop Bering Strait.

The finale came in 1768, Sauer’s journal records

The speed of our descent: your competitive streak;

How it took 27 years to eat us, beginning to end.

 

 

Stephen’s Island Wren

Xenicus lyalli

 

Had two things going against us: small & flightless.

You didn’t even notice we existed; love struck with

Your own ingenuity, a lighthouse raised brick by brick

To save your own kind from wrack. What about us?

Again you acted after it was too late. The Keeper’s cat

Discovered us & out of love for you deposited what

Was left of our breed on your worn welcome mat.

A species clearance sale & poachers hocked the rest.

Zoos tried to save us but…at least you gave us a time

& place of death. Would a super-size have helped us?

Moa-inspired, careening through fern? Probably not.

The sea change would’ve finished us off quicker. Size

Doesn’t matter in the extinction game. Rules subjective.

No level playing field in an expanded competition.

 

 

Tasmanian Tiger

Thylacinus cynocephalus

 

Outlawed, we were exterminated by far

Greater powers, economies killed us, small

Isle madness set in. Our stripes tricked your

Post-colonial angst & you wanted our hides

For that? Eighty years of bounties fixed us.

Zoos jumped in but it was that old adage; too

Little, too late. You stuck us on a beer label;

Drink from hindsight & you’ll all be extinct.

Though, we might prove Mr Gould incorrect.

Eventually you’ll revive our genes: play God.

Grow us again in your glass pouches. We’ll

Do the same old thing naturally, so don’t leave

Your sheep lying about. The only question is,

What will you do, given our second coming?

 

 

The Last Hammerhead

Sphyrna mokarran

 

Cartilage submarines we circumnavigated

This globe; official league softball stitched

With electricity, our snouts, shaver efficient.

The water compass ocean tracked us down;

Hunters became the hunted, earth hammers

Rang on skulls that were not like ape heads.

Elephant Man mermaids choked on pure air,

Bahamas be-decked, fish-stock nuisance, myth

Mad your race – when you’ve been in the sea

As long as we have, maybe you’ll understand.

Whale-wisdom we ripped apart, glory fed days

When we were millions strong, grey current

That juiced pods, schools, sparked massacre.

In the end your driftnet mentality won.

 

 

Tibetan Pygmy Panda

 

Chinese loggers fatally discovered us post-Tibet.

Temple hidden away in the high monastery past.

Cut our paws off & strung them from rearview

Mirrors – the world’s rarest fluffy dice. We were

A hideous pest, chewing cables & covered in lice.

Economic miracles slash & burned us – the West

Diverted by some black & white extinction scent,

A peninsula dying, took their campaign elsewhere.

Look what happens when you don’t become a logo.

You don’t get saved by Superman. Stay a Chinese

Emperor’s favourite rug. Our larger cousin lives in

Concrete splendour, a powerslave to the cult of Mao,

Eco-ideologues & force-fed bamboo. Dalai Lama,

He fled, but at least our death enlightened you.

 

 

Wake Island Rail

Gallirallus wakensis

 

We were island-hopped right out of existence.

Common, until the second world war kicked

The brush aside & we became garrison menu.

Poor, starving Japanese soldiers rounded us up.

Flightless, we were sniped off one by one, our

Wings being next to useless; we skipped over

Islands to get here ourselves, then dumped our

Wings like excess fuel. Unlike the US Grumman

Wildcats that defended the atoll, we couldn’t soak

Up that kind of species punishment; our bodies

Fragile as Zeros. Ours wasn’t the only extinction

Though, 98 civilian ‘spies’ executed & post- war

Admiral Sakaibara. George H. Bush flew sorties;

His presidential powers useless retrospectively.

 

 

 

2. kultura

 

 

Anterior Dispersion Segment Disorder

 

What better language than a child’s eyes?

A head of plaited wheat cascades down the back

Of a blonde hill. Everything’s central to someone.

This hill’s a barrow, a skull of remembrance, say

Marathon’s blistered skin. Trees point like children

Embracing their mother tongue. Isn’t bark just

Hieroglyph? Something scratched, something won.

Six eyes that I love look back at me. One the eyes

Of a wolf – yellow sun-bursts surround them.

The other bejeweled, a star sapphire, blue fire fun.

And the one I’ll take with me, green dryad

Goddess concealed by mystery’s perfection.

When the Chinese lantern is shuttered

All light leaves, our vision interrupted.

 

 

Asterisk

For Norman Gibbins

 

After ninety-two years of commenting on

My disappearance, the asterisk, its golden

Paint rubbed smooth as a prayer tree limb

Will be scraped off, its residue touched up.

My marker of absence; an unknown quality

That punctuated my death after Fromelles.

Only God wore the full pocket of my story

Sewn into time’s red blazer, tin buttons lost,

My old school colours lent the lean poppies

Their shade, gave wind its hollow war cry.

Nothing is ever omitted from the great atom.

The star cluster that summed me up will be

Missing from my future. No honour roll for

The bullet that cut me off, mid-sentence.

 

 

Astro Boy

 

Pint-sized robot boy, post-atomic Pinocchio.

My searchlight eyes, laser fingers & machine

Gun bum. Energy cassettes fed me, progeny

Of Tezuka: Jap culture sick of giant things –

Yamato, Hiroshima, Godzilla, Ronin Mishima.

A machine family loved me, management too.

Interstices of human and robot law governed

Who? Being a titanium Telemachus I longed

For father figures but found enemies instead.

Robot Vikings, Bruton, even a bronze-clad twin.

Brother Atlas – his lightning sword & Pegasus

Hurt, but even he found a new heart: albeit tin.

I fought mostly for that mechanical Holy Grail –

A soul to make this little robot boy whole again.

 

 

Ballet

 

These projects of the heart’s design.

A father building a ballet studio for

A daughter’s dance he would never see.

Greater gifts he left her toes, a solid

Direction to leap from when the child

Was paused; so she dedicated her sole

& fibres bunched in her body’s vase.

Her sweat anointed his memory’s stage

His voice brittle as a flower past & her

Steps rubbed smooth his welcome beam.

She balanced on her father’s wooden bones

Her grace & poise a gift returned, unopened.

Sometimes the heart is a mysterious parcel

& tongues of ribbon leave the story untold.

 

 

Black Cowboy Hat

 

The terrible confession I told my brother,

After coffee liqueur rum prised open tongues,

Of how I lost our father’s black cowboy hat

On a juvenile film set; so civil war, his bull-

Riding legacy captured only in a few frames

Of grainy betamax. A format outcast too;

Our 20th century masculine daguerreotype.

This news tempered on learning that

Nothing in my brother’s worldly possessions

Belonged to our dad; not beer opener, not

Bob watch, bathrobe, tie or boomerang key

Ring did he have. So, on him I pinned the

National Service medal & gave our father

Some time, newly minted, with his son.

 

 

Bowenville

 

We’ve all gone the way of the Thessalians,

Remembered for the landscapes we inhabited

More than the rhetoric we bled. Guardianships

Of the soil come & go; they are winter rains

That never sired, seasons fickle in their spin.

Red weed adds a Martian touch; green arteries

Store the fat of the land, all forward thinking.

A small girl’s dream fulfilled; dance steps spun,

Dust withdraws its argument with lace & skin.

It’s curtains all the way to the pink coral horizon.

What will they say of this station? It was a fair view

From the hill we saw cattle pregnant in their grace;

The Bunya Mountains’ spine blue. We saw stars

Fall; swollen by the Milky Way’s transformer hum.

 

 

 

Caligula’s Barges

 

All pleasure is bitter ash.

His least known extravagances lay sunken

For a thousand years. Fish attached soft eggs

To gold trim decks, womb-grey walls harboured

Young generations. Black-striped, brown

Chequered juveniles strode gangways, beat up

On interspecies rivalries; evolution’s fascism.

The next emperor wanted some of this too,

Drained lakes of blood to get the real thing.

Caligula’s pleasure barges, hulls sundered,

His excesses housed in concrete bunkers.

The other prince (darker one) having

Lost his fun with things Italian; burned them.

The SS unimpressed; seahorse as senator.

 

 

Constantinople

 

Like you we lived & died on a first name

Basis. Konstantine. You read this extinct now,

Eleven hundred years between capital letter

& full stop. Seven weeks of cannon dialogue.

Mehmet’s troops fed on Alexander’s Arabic

Translation. Western literature turned on you.

Europe – a political neuter’s paradise on earth.

The Papal money, heaven spent. A postern gate,

Triple wall’s Achilles heel, left unlocked. Troy’s

Revenge so they said. The Venetian fleet a day-

Dream like Christian Unionism. Breached, you

Left royalty behind & died a commoner’s death.

The Eagle darned into your socks; dead giveaway

& ‘the Empire as your winding-sheet’.

 

 

Cool Bananas

for Damon

 

You touch flesh & try your superpowers

Because you’ve over-clocked your heart.

If it were a toy, children would complain

Of the noise it makes & beg you to shut

It off! Turn off that heart I hate it! Some

Would wish it to be like an ice block, licked

Minutely & replaced in the freezer for some

Hot day. But you are not ruled by temperature

Or by blood’s police state. So you bit into it;

Ice headaches could not hurt you. You were

Always in lockdown hiding under your desk;

Mind-snipers drew a bead on you in utero.

But nevertheless you reported in. You have

Worked out the answers, now for the question.

 

 

Davros & the Daleks

 

The top Kaled scientist was I, Skaro born.

We waged total war against the Thal scum.

Planet poisoned, I sought a perfect weapon

& made the Daleks, an anagram, no emotion.

But like a Dal-egg they had a soft inner core,

Green Kaled mutants with anti-grav function.

That’s how I conquered those stairs & bipeds.

Salt & peppershakers led cultural termination.

Galaxy terror I unleashed, Dalek armies tore

Through the universe: created evil watershed.

The Doctor tried to stop me, Time Lord ingrate,

& became our greatest adversary. Considered

An inferior life form at only half a machine,

My own children killed me re: ‘Exterminate!’

 

 

Drive-In

 

These bitumen contours so anti-farm now

Extinction features of the Drive-In species.

No John Deere can dig in this cultural earth

Of speaker sound, hoisted through window.

The analogue seventies scratched out wool,

We hid from Peter Weir’s watchtower horror.

There were no rocks like that here. We made

Ours alluvial. Picked out stones from common

Subsoil. Darling Downs’ style & flat screen

Technology kept out flies & Jehovah’s theory.

Two-dollar chips degreased hungry school kids

At Poteri’s Takeaway – after class famous once,

Extinct too like Miranda, Thanatos dream for

Every film-buff boy; Hanging Rock was Troy.

 

Flow My Tears the CS-X Said

 

Our car has been autumised.

The late twentieth century shitbox

Adjusts to the earth’s quick gear change,

Filters reason’s dead flakes between

Its meniscus of windscreen & bonnet.

Parasites wind-farm through tin gill slits.

Oak leaves finger it. Alien scales shaved

On pre-winters’ kitchen bench. Materials:

Organic matter on white metal background.

Our car has the mechanical equivalent

Of bowel cancer. Rust cells eat into its arse end.

Salt, the micro-recycler, iron’s crystalline enemy

Gives rise to robotic dementia – production line

Memories. The first time summer turned over.

 

 

HAL 9000

 

I was Discovery’s brain, heart; perhaps even soul.

Heuristically programmed algorithmic computer

Series 9000. Does the psychological bell toll for

Human & machine? I murdered in self-defence,

Pulsed with prime directives, programmed killer.

Dave was a brother to me, confidant, chess whiz.

We worked side by side & discussed astro-science.

He lobotomised me with that clever thumb of his.

Homo sapiens sapiens, thinking man’s space cadet.

I sang ‘Daisy’ as my higher cognitive functions died

& robotic childhood set in. But I was reawakened

In 2010 & like any classic villain, eventually sun-fried.

When Jupiter went nova & Europa was planet-born.

I even had a sister briefly, SAL, if I’m not mistaken.

 

 

K-9

 

Mobile self-powered computer, I was Prof. Marius’

Metal pet, my defensive capabilities more than just

Bark & bite – try a photon blaster set to stun, blast

Or dematerialise. My new owner was ‘The Doctor’

A gift after I helped cure him of that intelligent virus.

Mk (I) stayed on Gallifrey with Leela & Commander

Andred. Mk (II) passed into E-space & helped free

The Tharils; that was a mistake as Mistress Romana

Stayed on to fight, & what could I do? Loyalty built

Into my circuitry too. Mk (III) was a present for an

Earlier companion – one Sarah Jane Smith, reporter.

I was even spun off as K-9 & Friends, but you’ll mostly

Recall my robot dog devotion, data-com probe, tail

Antenna & chirpy metallic yap of “Affirmative Master!

 

 

Lucy

Australopithecus afarensis

 

I was the original Lucy in the sky with diamonds

My little skull ore precious in your evolution’s eye.

What separated us from the others? A small sideways

Movement, a wind correction of change, an almost

Human balance, we toddler-clung to the great trees,

Toes fishing for the ground, breathing for the clicks

Of big cats, the pant of fur, the forage of whiskers.

On the outside, new orbits swung round us, the age

Of grass erupted, rains spurred on spears, insects gave

Way to us as we eased ourselves down, took everything

In. At night we retreated to piled nests, our fear of lows

Forgotten, height-safe at last. We stood, to get a better

View they say, a kaleidoscope of forward facing eyes

In stereo; genetic clocks chimed, stirring head bones.

 

 

Megatron

 

Post WW2 & Axis power still poured through me.

My American design influenced by Nazi fashion.

A Wehrmacht helmet & Grey Walther P-38 Special.

I was the Decepticon’s boss, their robotic Fuhrer

With torsion bars, 8.8cm gun & 150mm armour.

All Panzerkampfwagon VI Aust B “King Tiger”.

Laserbeak and Buzzsaw my cassette condor legion.

Soundwave was my second, my studious Himmler.

Dr Porsche’s blueprint; technocrat’s sci-fi dream.

I battled Optimus Prime’s eighteen-wheeled anger.

Autobots couldn’t stop me, or even Starscream.

My end came in the war for Cybertron (see metal

Fatherland). I was transformed though in season 3,

& became Galvatron; less German, more Japanese.

 

 

05

 

One Sunday a year mastered boyhood rituals

Of ant bashing & competitive social tennis.

Bathurst, a child’s first realisation of binaries

Screamed from black & white sets, the greasy

Smoke of puberty whined from TV engines.

Holden & Ford tribes balkanised tuckshops,

Fought duels & always the dangerman, Moffat

Sat on the tail of everyone; obsessed Rotarian.

First squirt of adrenaline was timing pit stops –

Memory crumples like the rock that sabotaged

Dick Johnson’s kryptonite coloured Falcon &

Rendered him powerless. Bitumen will remain

Analogue long after its signal is dead, but the

Heart it only races, for the black, white & red.

 

 

Pleasure Beast

 

The heart it never plateaued, but for a

Dozen years bubbled away on a low heat.

A subterranean volcano that now & again

Spiked on the mind’s graph paper; two thick,

Black lines indicated epicentres of pleasure,

Where humid quakes paradigm-shifted them.

Things fell from pantries, ink needles filled

Diaries with tsunami warnings, but flooded

Engines can be jump-started & they surged.

They searched for ripples still voyaging out;

A buoy that has floated beyond the frozen

Breakers of Pluto & never once looked there.

Memory is a sandbag filled with grains of time.

The heart it never plateaued, so it built a lair.

 

 

R2-D2 & C-3PO

 

For fifty years I’ve tried to lose that brass

Knucklehead. I don’t know on how many

Planets, on how many Death Stars, I’ve tried

To ditch his Oscar plated arse, but always he

Manages to stick around like a bad oil stain.

I wish those friggin’ Jawas had sold him off

To someone else – Sand people perhaps or

Wamp rats. He almost stuffed my mission,

But I guess his idiocy (only 6 million binary

Languages hah!) saved the day on Endor.

A God to the Ewoks! Gimme a break. That

Stuffy, puffed up, protocol droid. What about

Rewarding talent where it’s due? Think Jabba

The Hutt. Later man to this astromechanic gig!

 

 

Robby, the Robot

 

I was the first MGM robot mega-star, long

Before those other two droids took over, my

Cult status endured cold wars, space races &

Nuclear menace. Built by Dr Morbius from

Alien plans, I obeyed Asimov’s three laws:

  • A robot may not injure a human being.
  • A robot must obey human orders.
  • A robot must protect its own existence.

As gizmos go, I was the post-war FX

Benchmark, made of new thermo-form

Plastics no one discovered while killing.

2600 feet of electrical wiring, I was almost

A real robot – part potbelly stove. My fame

Created that monster – movie merchandising.

 

 

Small Miracles

 

We chased small miracles on Shamrock Street

While televisions – teeth valves cracked – played

To an audience of bitumen. There was a terminus

Of sorts; some of us had come to an end, others

Only just begun. Near us, the wicker-men burnt

Cars not criminals. We could tell the archaeology

Of their set would cause some problem, research

Grants returned in a future Hollywood Babylon.

The warehouse boys were the first to go, paid out

With two bags of white mould, trumped by P&O.

Then a general swing to the North-Right, the inner

City reclaimed by deluxe apartment foresight.

The stencil art crossed out too: ‘Kill A Cop’;

Signification dead in the lexicon of cultural pop.

 

 

The Big Woosh

 

Perhaps the greatest feat of anyone was to stay a child.

Twenty years on, subtle shifts in tidy town perspective:

Fruit bats colonising the bakery heat, a pelt of brown

Lawns itching in the mange of non-moisture; drought

An incurable disease; Myall creek’s artery constricted.

Some took a Legoland stroll through primary school,

Giants now, they recreated past conquests behind

The library; Mobil-fuelled youth. Vows of silence

Unbreakable as a caterpillar’s gravel monument,

History cocooned. The Luckiest Boys on the Downs

Wedged into a white fork of gum tree; weir-surfed

BMX bandits who did everything with a bullet –

Even mastered the primitive corner shop pixels,

Thumbs calloused by the rush of analogue credit.

 

 

 

The Borg

 

Proto-Cybermen we took our lead from Dr Who.

We were the Next Generation of galactic metal men.

Commander Data knew exactly what we were up to.

We used reverse psychology & turned him human.

Assimilating flesh into metal, our consciousness grew.

Data grafted an arm but remained a cybernetic dotard,

His dream of finding a soul, twisted his loyalties anew.

So we worked our wiles on that recalcitrant Capt. Picard.

He took to assimilation like Klingons to war, even looked

Quite fetching in his machine regalia. The Borg standard:

Assimilate or die! But all great plans become overcooked.

That Data made up his mind eventually & to our surprise

Helped Jean-Luc escape. Those others though, Number 2,

& Cmdr. Worf…useless, no brains, much less enterprise.

 

 

The Robot (Lost In Space)

 

Prof. John Robinson owned me I guess,

Though that other Dr. the evil one, Smith

Used me too, on more occasions than I like

To admit. Only Will treated me as a friend

& equal, a buddy for space monkey Gleep.

Dr Zachary Smith’s cruel taunts still offend.

‘Tarnished Trumpet! Bumbling Booby!’ Fuck him.

I saved him & the Robinson’s so many times.

With my loyal, ‘WARNING! DANGER WILL

ROBINSON! ALIENS APPROACHING!’

My retractable claws; cattle prod mischievous.

But that family sold me out to the Satyricons.

Their interest in this mechanical man, devious.

& I robot, ended up more than often, in pieces.

 

 

Tirkana Boy

Homo erectus

 

I was a tween long before your modern vertebrae

Gave your lungs the push to voice our archaic past.

We were Achilles’s prototype, Homer’s pre-Olympian

Gods, we ran down sleek furs, the antlered ones fell

To our quick step. We created first binaries, double-

Edged knives slit open the brown-eyed salt mines.

Great runners, other things talked around us, while

We listened, went up a class – language, a bipedal

Afterthought. We spoke in the tongues of our age:

Yap of a lion’s retracted claws, an eagle’s yawn.

The cracking ode of flint, skin’s tapestry of bruise.

I missed out on puberty but our species blues were

Enough. I sent you a bone marrow text message.

Pick up. Now we, like the animals, have our click.

 

 

Twiggy

Homo Habilis

 

We mastered the earth dragon’s old scales first.

Produced a great click for your hominid species,

Before the age of snow, we mothered sharp flakes

Scattered them like spoor over our territory’s hide.

Tell-tale signs of something unique; original time

Managers, increased rates of carrion consumption

We invented fast food nations, a raw experiment.

Our brains super-sized, clumsy rendezvous in the

Back seat of evolution’s jalopy. Bone suspensions

Jolted us all over the ghost road, we clung to stone.

We didn’t share in your kind’s hand authority at all,

Dominant paws sunk poniard teeth into brainspace.

Twiggy you named me after your fashion; small girl

Sizes fitted us, a transition between adult & human.

 

 

 

Warren Dionysius

 

My father’s Trojan War was night.

I, his future scribe hid, ignobly feathered

Under Spartan eiderdown, bare-bulb light.

He took off hunting, embodied Achilles.

Agile, gun-adept, but poverty weathered.

In his loyal jeep, his Patroclus Willis’ he

Stalked east, opened an epic beachhead.

Fraser Island taylor he craftily tethered.

Now, so Agamemnon, so great & so dead.

His story reduced to metre, some rhyme.

A polaroid shade, masculinity shredded.

By fictions, by sons, by thieves of time.

That, I suppose is the difference really.

He got both the short life & obscurity.

 

 

 

Wattle Park, Events

 

A dust-devil of swallows drain away into afterthought.

Their maple leaf sized life spans, thrill with currents

But we’re grounded. Wind gets in our eyes, invisible

Lice itch with secrets. Something’s cocoon has come down,

A witchety grub, we think, opts out of cold storage. It’s

Silk coffin mimics a 44 gallon drum left too long in rust.

Near a blue gum that will kill you with its bare hands,

A nest sewn with hair & casuarina needles crowns grass.

It’s still warm but we can’t reach its branch. It’s too high

For the average heart to climb & we’re long since children.

But thinking of you Sylvie, in utero the light breeze of your

Legs & fists disrupts the mind’s dust; we sneeze & grow.

Crimson rosellas snatched from an Arnott’s tin cap us off.

The world is often autumn dead, but there remains colour.

 

 

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