Again the him came and fought that other one
spur on spur they rousing such a splash ‘til
he’s growl and stung swum off – he I never seen
once, nor him that’s done his business with me,
come to think.
No mind me. Clutch me hatchling oval, all those
dawn-rises and down-suns, all them dozy burrow days.
Those easy, I reckon. Not the ten, twelve slithery-moon rounds
when the blasted cramping in me tail – harking the buzz in me nose
to find out the good crunchy bugs what the creek-bottom leaf-fall
is hiding, now that’s tucker worth deep diving – damn if that didn’t
grouch me some.
Eh, but when me one soonly shattered it and out she came all pink
and no-furry, waving those teeny front swimmers, aye
so that good welcome white gushed out
and I cupped it in me belly pools while she supped and supped
in our banked den so damp and cozy-dark, then, ah and then
I brimmed out me thanks to that him, wherever now he swims.
*boondaburra is an indigenous word for platypus used by tribes near Yas, Queensland.
Mel Denham is a very recently emerged Melbourne (Australia)-based poet and proofreader, who has been slightly published by The Emma Press (UK) and n-Scribe (Melbourne). She tweets occasionally as @BeSpokePoet.
“This poem was written for Francine Elena’s open workshop ‘Dear Zoo’ but in a way it began because of an earlier course with Ryan van Winkle ‘Write What You Don’t Know’. Ryan’s last assignment had us write about an animal, a task that failed to thrill me at first. But a bit of poking around the Smithsonian’s website turned up an image of the star-nosed mole’s attention-grabbing visage. The poem I wrote about that creature came readily, even its ending – an uncommon experience for me.
Francine asked us to make a list of the usual suspects in animal poetry. Searching poetryfoundation.com and poetrylibrary.edu.au, I did some highly un-rigorous research, which only served to confirm my first instinct: domestic animals top the poetry pops. Dogs gave 292 poems, cats 288, horses 235, fish 188, bees 177 and chickens 104. (Surprisingly, the ubiquitous seagull rated only 14 poems. Maybe Jonathan Livingstone Seagull cornered that market?)
Getting closer to home, I looked up two prolific Australian poets – Jan Owen and Les Murray – and found they’ve both written poems called ‘Echidna’, as has another Oz poet, Lisa Brockwell. Of these three, Murray’s poem seemed the weirdest, with its intriguing opening lines ‘Crumpled in a coign I was milk-tufted with my suckling/till he prickled. He entered the earth pouch then/and learned ant-ribbon,’. Upon googling I discovered that these lines, despite their disorienting language, are based on what we know about how echidnas live.
I jotted down some facts about platypi, including one that didn’t make it into the poem – that the specimen Joseph Banks collected (still in the British Museum’s collection) has scissor marks on it, from the curator trying to prove it was a hoax. The other things that fed this poem were a typo on a web article interviewing an expert on monotremes (the family platypus and echidna both belong to), where ‘them’ was rendered as ‘the him’, and some reggae I was listening to that afternoon. Then it just flowed out through my pencil onto the pink legal pad. Another draft and a bit more googling turned up the unfamiliar yet compelling name ‘Boondaburra’ so the title became ‘Boondaburra in September.’ In the final draft I changed the southern hemisphere-specific ‘September’ to ‘Spring’ and added ‘Lady’ for its incongruous colonial overtones and to make clear it’s the voice of a female.”