For a Coming Extinction
(after W. S. Merwin)
You whom we have named Charger, Challenger,
Great King, and Noor the shining one,
now that you are at the brink of extinction,
I am writing to those of you
who have reached the black groves of the sky,
where you glide beneath branches of galaxies,
your fur damasked with constellations,
tell him who sits at the centre of the mystery,
that we did all we could.
That we kept some of you alive
in the prisons we built for you.
You tigers of Amur and Sumatra,
of Turkey and Iran, Java and Borneo,
and you – Royal Bengals, who lingered last.
Tell the one who would judge
that we are innocent of your slaughter.
That we kiss each pugmark,
the water trembling inside
as if you had just passed.
Masters of ambush and camouflage,
hiding behind astral trees,
invisible as always,
when we gaze up at the night,
when we look lightyears into the past –
we see your eyes staring down at us.
‘For a Coming Extinction’ is published exclusively here.
‘#ExtinctionRebellion’ was first published in Mslexia Jun/Jul/Aug 2020, to accompany Kate Simpson’s ‘Agenda: A Brighter Shade of Green’ feature.
The day will come when papers
will only tell leaf-stories
of blackbirds’ quarrels with sparrows.
Their pages will roll back into trees
and the front page will be bark.
Tabloids will be hundred-winged birds
singing earth anthems.
I’ll settle into the buttress root of my armchair
and watch ants swarm
to text me secrets from the soil
of all our lost species.
I’ll be surrounded by phones
that light up with chlorophyll,
vibrating like workers in their hives –
an apiary of apps.
I’ll touch a vanda orchid
and it’ll open
easily as hypertext,
everyone will hold leaves
intently as smartphones
to hear them retweet birdsong
This is my homepage, where I belong.
This is my wood wide web,
my contour map
with which to navigate
a new internet –
rootlets sparking towards rootlets
where resistance is in progress –
fungal friends working in darkness,
their windows blacked out.
‘#ExtinctionRebellion’ and ‘For a Coming Extinction’ will both appear in my eighth collection, Tiger Girl, published by Bloodaxe in September 2020. Tiger Girl explores my grandmother’s Indian heritage and the fauna and flora of subcontinental jungles. Tiger girl is my grandmother, who brought me up with tales of wild tigers, but she’s also the endangered predators I encountered in Central India, with their threats of poaching, species extinction, and deforestation. In this overpopulated country, so many charismatic megafauna, such as tigers, leopards, elephants and sloth bears, have to inhabit smaller and smaller territories, next to displaced and impoverished forest tribals and local farmers. National parks and tiger reserves like Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh, where I spent most of my time, are like a crucible, where humanity and wildlife struggle for survival.
Pascale Petit was born in Paris, grew up in France and Wales and lives in Cornwall. Her eighth collection, Tiger Girl (Bloodaxe Books, 2020), is shortlisted for the 2020 Forward Prize for Best Collection, and a poem from the book won the 2020 Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize. Her previous collection, Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe Books, 2017), won the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize 2018.