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