The Elephant Graveyard

elephant skeleton

Image: Elephant Skeleton ~ Mike Richardson

When I close my eyes
I dream of deepest Africa
The Motherland
Our ancestral home
Where the orange sun rises
Over the plantation lands
And the hot winds blow
Across the Serengeti plains

Deep in the wilderness
Vultures hover over an elephant graveyard
Swooping to pick at the flesh
Of all that remains
Their bones lie everywhere
Scattered and broken
Discarded by thieves in their search
For precious ivory

What happened to them I do not know
Perhaps it was starvation
Or disease
Or the lust and greed of man
But if you look closely
Sometimes you can still see them
And hear their mighty trumpets
Echoing through the night

Away in the city
Amongst the towers and smog
An elephant calf sits
In a concrete cage
The last of its kind
It sits and stares at the world
And remembers a time
When it was free

Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence

You can also listen to the poem below or at AudioBoo


Originally I started writing this poem for Blog Action Day but due to my health, I wasn’t able to finish it in time. So I’m posting it now instead.

It was inspired by a dream I had where I was standing in a pit, surrounded by the bones of hundreds of animals. It was extremely vivid; I kept thinking about the dream for days afterwards and thought about using it in a short story before deciding on a poem instead.

Over the last decade the threat of extinction has increased dramatically for many species, particularly for elephants in Africa. It’s largely due to poaching but also partially due to climate change; as droughts have worsened and their habitats have continued to be lost due to conditions and human encroachment, more elephants have had to search for food and water in new areas, where they often starve to death or are more easily targeted by poachers.

Some elephant populations have decreased by as much as two thirds in recent years and it’s thought that African elephants could be extinct by 2020. Whether people believe in the science of climate change or not, it’s clear that many species are becoming increasingly threatened on multiple fronts and if we do nothing, we could lose them forever.

That was what I wanted to represent in my poem. I wanted to leave the reader to decide what caused the extinction itself; I was more interested in showing what we have to lose. I hope you liked the poem. – CJ.

One Week Later

vic_bushfire

Image: Fire in Upper Ferntree Gully ~ jsarcadia

This is a follow up to the poem I posted earlier about Black Saturday and the bushfires in Victoria. I wrote the poem as a way of trying to move through the horror I felt in the days following the tragedy. There were so many images, so many stories, it was overwhelming and this felt like the only way I could make sense of it. Writing has always been cathartic for me and while I would have liked to have done more with it, I think the simplicity suits the poem… the starkness seems to capture the devastation of what happened.

It’s one week later now and in many ways I still don’t know what to make of it all. I have lived through several bushfires before but none as ferocious as this; it was like the entire southern coast of Australia was on fire and there was smoke around Sydney for days, as well as the overwhelming scents of various native plants, which will always remind me of the fires now.

The tolls keep increasing; 1,800 homes have been destroyed and 181 people have lost their lives so far – that may go as high as 300. As someone who respects the Australian landscape so much, to see it so devastated is awful; some parts of Victoria resemble craters more than bushland and over a million animals may have perished. Many fires are believed to have been caused by arson as well. For that terrible day, it truly was hell on Earth.

Am I angry? I’m more sad than anything else. Sad at the loss of life and property; sad that in many cases the warning signs weren’t heeded. Sad that it’s taken another tragedy for us to realise how fragile life can be. I’m also very grateful for the amount of good that people are doing, the way they’re helping and coming together; the donations and support, making quilts and toys, auctions for charities, giving blood. The way people have responded, here and overseas, has been incredible and filled me with a lot of hope.

I do understand the anger, though. When so many lives have been lost and homes destroyed, you feel helpless and anger is a natural response. I think we need to be careful not to deflect blame, though. There’ll be time for a closer examination of what went wrong but right now it seems like arson is all the media cares about. Arson is awful but we shouldn’t be so fast to deflect all of our anger onto it – there’ll be many factors contributing to this tragedy and what we really want is to make sure this never happens again, rather than to strike out in vengeance. Right now we need time to grieve.

APTOPIX Australia Wildfires

Sam the koala and firefighter David Tree

For me I think this photo is going to be the main image that stays with me from these fires. It’s amazing; the koala almost looks like a baby being fed from a bottle, and the fireman is being so gentle. There’s been some confusion about when exactly it was taken but it’s still an image that shows you how devastating fire can be and the compassion it can bring out in people. It shows that even in the darkest of situations you can find some hope, which I wanted to reflect in my writing as well.

Sam and her rescuer seem to have become the global face of the bushfires; I know the photo has been featured in a lot of blogs and newspapers around the world. That’s largely because there has been so little good news coming out of these fires and something like this really raises all of our spirits, which is what we need right now.

That’s why I was disappointed when TMZ mocked the photo recently. I detest TMZ anyway but mocking a selfless gesture – twice – when people have died and lost their homes seems very tasteless. How about some sensitivity for what people are going through? That’s TMZ for you, I guess.

At least we know Sam is being cared for now and hopefully will recover. Sadly many other animals haven’t been as lucky. They are the forgotten victims in this tragedy, in many ways.

In any case, I wanted to post this and my poem today to mark the week since the tragedy. I’ve not been able to concentrate on much else; everything else seems rather trivial at the moment, particularly when you think about the amount of money spent on Valentine’s Day when people have nothing.

I hope my poem is respectful; I wanted to try and work through that day in my mind and to be evocative of the landscape. I hope in some small way it speaks for what we’re all feeling at the moment.

I don’t think any of us can ever really understand what it must have been like on that day but I found this video by someone who filmed the Churchill fire; it killed 21 people, 1 near where she was filming at Jeeralang. It really brings the impact home, particularly when you hear the wind howling.

It really was hell on Earth.

Hell on Earth

bushfire_sunset

Image: Smoke Clouds ~ Jety

Red sunrise burning
Wind howling among the trees:
Nature is unleashed

The beauty of fire:
An unstoppable fury
Dancing on the wind

Eucalypt forest:
Ancient trees of memory
Scorched by angry flames

Smoke clouding the sky:
Embers falling like raindrops
In the darkest light

Twenty years of life
Reduced to rubble and ash:
We have each other

A fallen tree trunk:
Cars abandoned by the road
Toys scattered inside

Amidst the burnt grass
A single flower remains:
A lone miracle

The sadness of night:
Survivors gather to pray
Tears fall down your face

A city of tents:
Shelter and home to many
Memories survive

Red sunset fading
Raindrops falling to the ground:
A young country mourns

Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence

Stand up for what you believe in

Today is Blogging Against Abuse Day. It’s an initiative created by BlogCatalog asking bloggers on Thursday, September 27th to write about putting an end to an abuse they feel passionately about. The goal is to try to form the largest group of bloggers to write about an important cause on the same day, and by doing so to raise awareness to help prevent abusive situations. If you’d like to join us, please do; it’s a wonderful initiative and worthy of your support.

I feel strongly about condemning all forms of abuse; physical, emotional and psychological abuse is about power, holding power over another life, denying someone the freedom to be all they can be. It’s a cycle that is difficult to break; some people spend their entire lives as victims, enabling the abuse, while others grow into the behaviour and inflict it on other people. I believe we should condemn abuse wherever we see it; if we turn a blind eye, how are we really any different?

There are two causes though I feel very strongly about. The first is animal abuse. I can’t describe how awful I feel when I hear a story about an animal which has been killed or maimed by humans, or when I hear about something like mulesing, or see abandoned pets crowding RSPCA shelters. One of the worst experiences I’ve ever had was five years ago when eight kittens were left abandoned outside our apartment. At first we didn’t know they were abandoned (there were lots of stray cats in our area), so we left a cardboard box and some milk for them. A couple of hours later we heard mewling. An eight-year-old boy had destroyed the box and was kicking and kicking them again and again and again. We scared him off but three of the kittens had broken legs and bruised faces; one couldn’t move at all, was just whimpering. We took them to the local vet and two had to be put down. It was just a despicable, cruel act against defenceless victims; I don’t believe in evil, not in the biblical sense, but I shudder to think of what that boy might be like in 10 years time. I’ll always speak out against animal abuse; I hope to adopt a pet at some stage in the next year myself and when I do, I’ll be adopting one from my local shelter. It just seems like a simple thing to do, a small way to make a difference.

The other cause I wanted to mention is abuse of freedom. I believe everybody has the right to be free, the right to choose the life they want to live; perhaps that makes me naive but it’s what I believe, what I feel every day. You can just look at what’s happening in Burma right now to know how important it is. The raids are terrible and should be condemned by every leader in the world; likewise the continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi is a disgrace. On a day when we’re talking about abuse, I can’t let the violence go by without saying something against it. And the same goes for Zimbabwe, Sudan, Congo, Tibet and countless other countries and republics where their people are not truly free or live with violence, and it’s why I feel strongly about censorship in Turkey, China, Pakistan and Thailand as well. It’s what Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Freedom is like life. You cannot be given life in installments. You cannot be given breath but no body, nor a heart but no blood vessels. Freedom is one thing — you have it all or you are not free.

So that’s what I have to say. I think this is a wonderful initiative and I’m proud to be part of it. Alone our voices fade into the background, but perhaps together a group of committed people can be heard. We might not change the world but hopefully we’ll do some good.

So I wonder what abuses you’re against? Write something and let us know. 😉