All About Animals: Secondary Pupils: Poetry

Virginia McKenna, Solitude

I am in my room, alone.
Time is nothing.
The silence and its stillness please me.
I can keep this solitude
Without question,
Until the need to end it pleases me.
In his small cage, alone,
Time is nothing.
His silence is within, inside his brain,
He keeps this inward silence
To protect himself
From eyes that do not understand his pain.
I keep him in this cage,
My primate brother,
I keep him on display for all to see.
I must be sure that he knows
Who is master
That in my hand, alone, lies freedom’s key.

Wes Magee, Who’s Seen Jip?

Jip’s run away.
Left home for good.
I just knew he would,
For earlier today
he was shouted at by dad.

“Bad dog!
Bad dog!

Now Jip’s a stray.
What will he eat?
Where will he sleep?
I’m so sad I could weep.
Oh doomsday, gloomsday
My dog has gone.

Who’s seen Jip?


Jenny Moxham, World Animal Day

On World Animal Day,
Spare a thought if you will
For the billions of beings
Man raises to kill.

The grief-stricken pig
In her small concrete pen,
The sad de-beaked, feather-pecked
Battery hen.

Chickens too crippled
To reach food or water,
Sheep dying on ships
Bound for ritual slaughter.

Tail-docking, mulesing,
Branding, castration,
Torture and pain
With each cruel mutilation.

Have we truly the right
To abuse and mistreat
These creatures so gentle
So mild and so meek?

Please show you’ve a heart
And please show that you care
By going meat-free
On this day of the year.

William Blake, The Fly

Little Fly,
Thy summer’s play
My thoughtless hand
Has brush’d away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance,
And drink and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength and breath;
And the want of thought is death;

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live
Or if I die.

Coral Hull, i had a choice to make, between my grandmother & a cockroach

when my grandmother asked me how i felt about her in relation to a cockroach, i said ‘i love you both the same,’ she was very offended & went off her head, i told her that i thought she had misunderstood, that i was naturally more attached to her than the cockroach, because she was of my own species, because she was a grandmother & because i liked some things about her personality that made her dear to me, furthermore that i was not particularly partial to cockroaches, & i had no idea what the cockroaches personality would be like, therefore i was not as attached to the cockroach, but that in reality they were both equal in the eyes of life & death, & that they were both the same, in that they were both worthy of my love & respect in the same way, but nanny never heard any of this, in her mind i had chosen the cockroach

Coral Hull, Fox In A Cage At The Zoo

A broken down train is reclaiming the same tunnel on a circular track. Now confronted with this living red miracle, I was intent upon making contact. Yet the red fox would have none of it. All the tantrums of my small plump legs couldn’t get that fox to stop and look. Mission had turned to obsession, down the long highway of hysteria. Her eyes shone like rich liquor, unfocused and timeless, captured like an insect in amber. Her fiery tail like a stubbed cigarette. There was no reaching into her, fingers on the wire, my chubby knees pinned to the dirt, the soft skin stapled by twigs and stones. I knew that something was very wrong here, yet I trusted the world. “Foxes are beautiful,” I said.

I suddenly felt her full of pain and worry. Nan thought the bears had frightened me, those zoochotic polar bears that swayed deep inside the concrete pits. Once my brother dropped his plastic bottle, and crawled through a barricade in his nappies to get it. The polar bears’ eyes were already on the toddler that teetered on the edge. For a moment I felt the silence of nightmares that emit strained and desperate cries. This was the world of the captive bears a long way from the icefloes and Churchill. The animals were teaching me lessons. It was like a shadow crept into my heart to settle there. “This is the world,” it said, “welcome little girl who learns from everything.”

Coral Hull, from, Taronga Park Zoo In Sydney

. . . I will not forgive the zoo for the elephant, for his far-fetched torment. His lengthy sway in every waking moment and when he slept, thrown sideways like simulated waves inside the sea lion tank. A whiff of ocean from the harbour persisted and grew strong, as the ferries glided further and further away, whilst captive marine mammals circled in parallel swimming pools. At every cage John said, ‘that’s the worst.’ It got worse as the day grew longer. I knew that he would not forgive them for the Andes Condor. ‘It’s a bird that SOARS in high altitudes!’ he said, words rising up inside his throat. The choke of tethered emotions, and the damp finality of wings that would never meet clouds. A tremendous lonesome bird sat hunched behind layers of mesh and pipes, a wire cage six foot above its head. Taronga Park Zoo flattened the Andes. They made that condor crawl.

W.H. Davies, A Child’s Pet

When I sailed out of Baltimore,
With twice a thousand head of sheep,
They would not eat, they would not drink,
But bleated o’er the deep.

Inside the pens we crawled each day
To sort the living from the dead;
And when we reached the Mersey’s mouth
Had lost five hundred head.

Yet every night and day one sheep,
That had no fear of man or sea
Stuck through the bars its pleading face,
And it was stroked by me.

And to the sheep-men standing near,
‘You see,’ I said, ‘this one tame sheep?’
It seems a child has lost her pet,
And cried herself to sleep.’

So every time we passed it by
Sailing to England’s slaughterhouse
Eight ragged sheep-men – tramps and thieves –
Would stroke that sheep’s black nose.

Benjamin Zephaniah, A Beetle Called Derek

There was once a beetle called Derek
Who lived in a forest on Earth
And this little beetle called Derek
Was really attracted to dirt,
She did not carry no weapons
Except what she naturally got
She did not have no possessions
But she could look after her lot.
Predators came and they went,
This was no reason to panic
Cause this was with Nature’s consent,
She was related to Wind and Fire
A sister of necessity,
She was related to Earth and Water
A distant cousin to me.
Doctors could not work out Derek
Derek had secrets she kept
Then came the white coated bandits
Scientists seeking all they could get,
Her home was robbed to make paper
And that got the climate upset,
Cows were grazed to make burgers
The cows never made a profit!!

Derek was taken for granted
By selfish non-beetle people,
Some supporters of Derek demanded
An end to what we called Evil,
Handouts could not solve the problem alone
So I called out the Eco-Police,
But we could not win the fight on our own
Now Derek my friend is deceased.

There once was a beetle called Derek
Who lived in a forest on Earth,
Nobody knew where she came from
A kind of mysterious birth,
I built a memorial to Derek
Hoping that it may be seen,
I hope when I die I’ll see Derek,
In a heaven organic and green.

Benjamin Zephaniah, Memories

I recall a time
Not long ago
When sheep would roam around here,
If you were nice and friendly
You could get close to a deer,
Foxes, rabbits
Wild and free
We had so much potential,
But we did not live in harmony
And that was detrimental.
I take no blame
I did not do it
I was an innocent child,
My roots are very vegan
I like my animals wild,
I take no blame
I did not do it
I wrote to all the rulers,
I took a stand,
I loved the land
How I loved the Animal Kingdom
I saw people training dogs
To make the doggies violent
Rulers of the land made dog owners
Buy a licence,
I saw furs of animals
Upon human backs
I saw furs of animals
Being used as mats,
It happened here, I saw it
I called it Human Madness
I saw friends disappear
Imagine all my sadness,
I shouted from all high places
Let us not do this crime,
Nobody listened to me
Nobody had the time.

Memories don’t leave like people do
I miss the kangaroo
I recall great big trees
I need these memories.

Benjamin Zephaniah, Pets Control

We moved into a house
We kicked de animals out,
Den we got our pets
An signed on at de vets,
We den called wildlife strays
Zoos captured dem,
We gazed,
Wild life made great TV,
How civilised were we?

Paul Muldoon, Hedgehog

The snail moves like a
Hovercraft, held up by a
Rubber cushion of itself,
Sharing its secret

With the hedgehog. The hedgehog
Shares his secret with no one.
We say, Hedgehog, come out
Of yourself and we will love you.

We mean you no harm. We want
Only to listen to what
You have to say. We want
Your answers to our questions.

The hedgehog gives nothing
Away, keeping himself to himself.
We wonder what a hedgehog
Has to hide, why he so distrusts.

We forget the god
Under this crown of thorns.
We forget that never again
Will a god trust in this world.

John Montague, The Trout

By kind permission of the author and The Gallery Press, Loughcrew, Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland from Collected Poems (1995)
Flat on the bank I parted
Rushes to ease my hands
In the water without a ripple
And tilt them slowly downstream
To where he lay, tendril light,
In his fluid sensual dream.

Bodiless lord of creation
I hung briefly above him
Savouring my own absence
Senses expanding in the slow
Motion, the photographic calm
That grows before action.

At the curve of my hands
Swung under his body
He surged, with visible pleasure.
I was so preternaturally close
I could count every stipple
But still cast no shadow, until

The two palms crossed in a cage
Under the lightly pulsing gills.
Then (entering my own enlarged
Shape, which rode on the water)
I gripped. To this day I can
Taste his terror on my hands.

Anne Stevenson, The Fish Are All Sick

The fish are all sick, the great whales are dead,
The villages stranded in stone on the coast,
Ornamental, like pearls on the fringe of a coat.
Sea men, who knew what the ocean did,
Turned their low houses away from the surf.
But new men who come to be rural and safe
Add big glass views and begonia beds.
Water keeps to itself.
White lip after lip
Curls to a close on the littered beach.
Something is sicker and blacker then fish.
And closing its grip, and closing its grip.

Margaret Attwood, You Fit Into Me

Reproduced with permission of Curtis Brown Group Ltd on behalf of Copyright © Margaret Atwood 1971

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

Alan Jackson, Goldfish

the scene of the crime
was a goldfish bowl
goldfish were kept
in the bowl at the time:

that was the scene
and that was the crime

Philip Larkin, Take One Home for the Kiddies

On shallow straw, in shadeless glass,
Huddled by empty bowls, they sleep:
No dark, no dam, no earth, nor grass –
Mam, get us one of them to keep.

Living toys are something novel,
But it soon wears off somehow.
Fetch the shoebox, fetch the shovel –
Mam, we’re playing funerals now.

Andrew Marvell, From The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Fawn

The wanton troopers riding by
Have shot my fawn and it will die.
Ungentle men! They cannot thrive
To kill thee. Thou ne’er didst, alive,
Then any harm; alas, nor could
Thy death yet do them any good…

It is a wondrous thing how fleet
‘Twas on those silver feet;
With what a pretty skipping grace
It oft would challenge me the race;
And, when’t had left me far away,
‘Twould stay, and run again, and stay;
For it was nimbler much than hinds,
And trod as if on the four winds.

William Cartwright, The Dead Sparrow

Tell me not of joy; there’s none,
Now my little Sparrow’s gone:
He, just as you,
Would try and woo,
He would chirp and flatter me;
He would hang the wing awhile –
Till at length he saw me smile
Lord. How sullen he would be!

He would catch a crumb, and then
Sporting, let it go agen;
He from my lip
Would moisture sip;
He would from my trencher feed;
Then would hop, and then would run,
And cry Philip when he’d done.
O! whose heart can choose but bleed?
O how eager he would fight,
And ne’er hurt, though he did bite.
No morn did pass
But on my glass
He would sit, and mark and do
What I did – now ruffle all
His feathers o’er, now let ’em fall;
And then straightaway sleek them too.
Whence will Cupid get his darts
Feathered now to pierce our hearts?
A wound he may
Not, Love, convey,
Now this faithful bird is gone;
O let mournful turtles join
With loving red-breasts, and combine
To sing dirges o’er his stone!

Po Chü-I, The Red Cockatoo

Sent as a present from Annam –
A red cockatoo.
Coloured like the peach-tree blossom,
Speaking with the speech of men.
And they did to it what is always done
To the learned and eloquent.
They took a cage with stout bars
And shut it up inside.

Richard Digance, The Turkey

Turkeys don’t like Christmas,
which may come as no surprise.
They say why don’t human beings
pick on people their own size.
To sit beside potatoes
in an oven can’t be fun,
so a turkey is quite justified
to feel he’s being done.

Petra Von Morstein, In the Case of Lobsters

There are
2 methods some put
the live lobster
in boiling
water for the best
with a microphone
you can hear screams
of pain if
in the case of lobsters
one can speak of such a thing
as pain

for humanitarian reasons
put it in cold
then bring to the boil

Coral Hull, Spent Cows In The Slow Paddock

Where are those old girls walking to? they are the dreariest cows I’ve ever seen, their legs red raw and udders stretched into monstrosity, from the bright tit gripping machinery, I can chose to see the world in another way, I can tilt my cheek and lift my eyes above their own, I can remember a world in which I used to be saved from pain, but I cannot see the world that way again, because I have seen the haggard dairy cows, standing in the paddocks outside the Dandenong knackery, their udders bleeding and unmilked, the absent calves as we competed for the milk and won, the humiliation beneath the pain, and these “spent” mothers, in single file in a single field with their unmilked udders, the open sores on their backs like someone had thrown some mince up there, like they had slapped it on like mud, a cow with her tail chopped off so that it wriggled like the stump, she was haughty, old and stiff in the hindquarters, her back legs jammed like sticks into dirt, as she pushed them in, so that they popped back up still unhealed, spent cows in the slow paddock, the dairy herd have formed their final hierarchies, I say, she’s had enough, and could die just now but she just doesn’t know how to, on my long walks with weariness, I have felt their triangular joints that prop up the sagging skin, like it’s already drying into leather, we can’t wait to get the skin off them, I saw the old cows walk in single file across the muddy paddock, their weariness settled into sunset, until the fence stopped them dead in their tracks, and a pink band of cloud twisted into the evening sky, the slaughterhouse in shadows as it should be, and all those bright days and nights, of the Friesians and the vivid blacks and whites, it is a horrible thing to cry softly for these old spent cows filling in time, years squeezed out like excess water, the silver tears that slide like oil, into the pond of effluent beneath the swans and their cygnets, even on a breezeless day the water will move the swan, the mirror image sliding into form like a paper boat into a drain, the effluent treatment works by the slaughterhouse paddock, a family of swans travelling down it, I ingest the chemicals before I can name them, take what little light is left and hang onto it here, it’s the reflection of all that oil along all that water, I am dipping into it with the oars of a hollow boat, by a row of cows I can barely remember, all living in the sewerage of our creation, swans are mournful at the best of times, but even now there can be beautiful things never imagined, like silver waste speckled onto fluffy grey cygnets, where the damage is complete, by the old industry cows in the waterlogged paddock.

Coral Hull, The Bears Have Gone Into Hibernation

a threatened black bear cub runs quickly up a tree by hugging it, cat style, the mother climbs as well, aspens are the getaway trees, in aspen groves black scratches scar wood and bark, vertical markings at the base are territorial warnings, horizontal or slanting marks that go up the trees are caused by rapid ascents, silent, vocal when agitated, mostly the bear is trying to get away, to do foresty things, to eat the berries, grunt and growl, the cubs cry out to their mothers like human babies, bears make a purring sound when content, when a bear is content so is the valley, the forests humming with contented black bears, dropped branches are growing sweet fruits, the sun warms dark hides, big pads and hips move through fruit bearing flowers, there are abundant berries for flower-eaters, after digesting twenty thousand calories a day during summer’s ending the giant bears sleep, it is late summer, the sun goes further and further back behind the trees, until the branches stand in the skin on their own, naked, the sun sinking so low it barely crawls up the bark, when that cold weather hits in early November, the bears move up the slopes fat as a foothill, to sub alpine elevations, where the snow will be deeper, deep and powdery, an expert at inducing the long white sleep, snow is good insulation, sufficient to keep the den temperature only a few degrees below freezing, in the coldest winter, cubs have been born like puppies, during the dormant winter period while the mother hibernates, the birth is a soft entry into the snow, pink noses and small climbs onto the mother’s lumbering body and snow buried branches, the bears burrow in a metre of two, the coldest weather has arrived, the time when the green blue sky is dominated by branches, frozen mountains and a sun the size of a coin, the pale lamp shines goldly out or silver, sending us its low low warmth, each bear digs out a simple shelter, often amongst boulders under an overhanging bank, or among the snowy roots of a wind thrown tree, if the soil is hard frozen and the rocks are frozen into it, so that they don’t detach, so that you cannot kick them out with you boot or scratch them out with your nails, then it is time to leave the earth to freeze, and to sleep for a long time with the great bears, the bear may pile up brush and fallen trees and hibernate in it, a heart rate is slowing down in the mountain ranges, a body temperature is lowering itself into peace, follow the bear that is heavy with rest and the dull light of the sky into dormancy, into the time when the great scratch marks on the trees are filled with ice, the silent paths and the sky is flightless, the pathways of the sky are empty of birds, the last ravens calling out the snow then flying through it, wings like windscreen wipers at regular intervals, this land is long frozen and waiting for meltwaters, the bear’s nose is thinking snow.

Coral Hull, The New Age Abattoir

one of the heifers in the transportation truck received a tarot card reading & the death card came up/ not a negative card by any means but one signifying great changes in her life/ her boy calf taurus capricorn rising is bellowing in a veal factory/ his four gangling legs broken chiropractically snapped at the waist/ put in an organic jarrah packing crate/ (sustainable logging only)/ a rose quartz crystal attached to each broken joint for healing of the heart chakra/ meanwhile the heifer is scorched on the rump with her sunsign & numerological chart/ cows are led from the truck & into the slaughter according to the brightness of their individual auras/ electric lights are shaded lavender/ & a flower essence – aspen: for fear & foreboding of the future/ is given to each frothing muzzle with a dropper/ & the sacred chainsaw is called excalibur/ & each worker is wearing the pentacle (right side up of course) & they never cut anti clockwise/ there is no need for a guru/ there is individual freedom/ the manager boycotts battery eggs for ethical reasons/ & before the smashing of her forehead/ we look into her long lashed eyes as deeply as we can: for the universal teaching of love & compassion/ but there is not much time/ now for some crimson colour therapy for the workers/ as we all strike her dead into an out of body experience/ or perhaps she is abducted by guardian angels in u.f.o.s/ how can we know?/ all the while the song of the humpback whale is gently freeing its oceans over the new age abattoir p.a. system/ workers have been found to be less stressed whilst this is playing & have even brought in potplants for the tea room/ the cow’s heavy body (still kicking) is dragged upwards on the hook/ her neck split open she cannot hold in air & blood/ & a shout from the workers: release yourself to the universal lifeforce!/for the wet rebirth her skin is steamed off/ we inject in some royal jelly & some herbalife/ tonight we celebrate her death & chew her fat & digest her corpse/ knowing we are at one with her & that she is at peace/ & for the ones left behind: a nice massage in essential oils to ease their distress

Aileen Fisher, Open House

If I were a tree
I’d want to see
a bird with a song
on a branch of me.

I’d want a quick
little squirrel to run
up and down
and around, for fun.

I’d want the cub
of a bear to call,
and a porcupine, big,
and a tree toad, small.

I’d want a katydid
out of sight
on one of my leaves
to sing at night.

And down by my roots
I’d want a mouse
with six little mouselings
in her house.

Used by permission of Marian Reiner on behalf of the Boulder Public Library Foundation

Virginia McKenna, Reflections

Inside the palm, beneath the searching fingers
The skin is pink and wrinkled.
Just like mine.
Eyes behind the mesh behind the glass
Look into my eyes.
Same thoughts. I know.
Sad, mad monkey
In that twilight box.
Reflected in the glass,
Dim outline in that silent, sordid world
I see myself, and you beyond.
Trapped. Forever.
In my memory.
What is your question?
Mine is the same.

Reproduced by permission of Virginia McKenna, The Born Free Foundation, 3 Grove House, Foundry Lane, Horsham, West Sussex RH13 5PL