The Last Auk

Upon that barren rocky mount

That lonely tower of stone it thought

Would be a sanctuary

It peered at me quite disapprovingly

As though through great white spectacles

This old professor, stout, black gowned

Dusty with chalk

His lessons done

It did not run as I approached

But waited; not knowing

Its mate lay dead already in the shallow cave

That could have been a scullery

It was as though it had just rung

For tea and macaroons

And hoped she would bring them along

Since there was company for once

Perhaps mistaking me

In doddering short-sightedness

For its old master Wormius

Come to discuss embryos and unicorns

And throw the runes

Sir, you are about to enter into myth

Gierfugle, spearbird, little wing

Another bird will bear the title Penguin

In your place

While you shall be preserved intact

Highly valued

Numbered, housed and catalogued

All for the common good of man

What could be nobler than that?

Now hold still sir, your collar is on crooked…

They killed your last known sister

For a witch upon St Kilda

They were perhaps in some way right;

That this least favoured species

Should remain extant at all

Was a modern heresy

There is no place in this new age

For flightless birds

Only the strong survive, and those who are

Of use

Although this oafish creature

Lacking grace and speed on land

And exiled from its proper element, the air

Did serve our expeditions in Newfoundland, where

Upon that barren, treeless shore

Their oily bodies made fuel for our fires

And if they did complain

When forced alive into the boiling kettles, well

We heard them not

And so after three nights bound to a stake

The superstitious fowl failed to recant

Only gave out guttural croaks

And fermented some dreadful bane

Within her feathered cauldron- belly

Summoning a storm so dreadful

Even those rain-lashed rock-hewn fishers

Were afraid

And took blunt sticks

And beat the life out of the hapless bird…

Too late it sensed my true intent

And tried to run, too slow

It stumbled arthritically uphill

Towards the rocky precipice

High above the waves that roared and scrummed

Like schoolboys, spittle launched against the cliff

As if in the last moment suddenly

To ride the air with those ludicrous

Stunted wings

Black notes pinned as a jape upon his coat

Flapping frantically to claim

At last the freedom of the skies

I caught him first

I strangled him

He did not cry

This left only the final egg

How like a world it seemed, and yet

Misshaped, a mockery

Archipelagos all unknown

Spattered cross a milky sea

Ink blots of a failed cartography

A world without a future

Judged beneath my heel

(from The Last Auk and other poems, (c) 2012). 


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