Walt Whitman from Song of Myself
I think I could turn and live with animals,
they are so placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession.
I wonder where they get those tokens,
Did I pass that way huge times ago and negligently drop them?
Myself moving forward then and now and forever,
Gathering and showing more always and with velocity,
Infinite and omnigenous, and the like of these among them,
Not too exclusive toward the reachers of my remembrancers,
Picking out here one that I love, and now go with him on brotherly terms.
Excerpts from unNatural Heart By Geoff Francis
Guardians by Juli Maltagliati
There are flowers in the brambles
where my soul takes flight
and can rest upon the scent,
fragrance of all lost and found beliefs
gathered where the dubious repent.
Angels are the fools seen treading there,
never mind the presence of hell’s fear.
Feathered wings float softly on the wind,
fanning flames of all that I hold dear,
never minding brambles piercing them,
never minding colors bleeding through.
No safer harbor beckons me to come;
the feathers shelter everything that’s true.
Copyright © 1-7-2020
A Murmuration of Starlings by Heathcote Williams
After a visit to the Wordsworths in the Lake District,
Coleridge caught a glimpse from his stagecoach
Of a gigantic flock of birds as it swooped, rose then fell
Above the frozen, wintry fields of a passing farm.
It was November 1799 and he described the phenomenon
As “a vision” in his Journal, then detailed the way
This “vast flight” drove along “like smoke, and expanded
Then condensed”, then continually shifted shape.
First he saw the starlings as an arc, then as a globe –
A force field of matter that changed from an oblong
Into an ellipse, “glimmering & shivering, dim & shadowy,
Now thickening, deepening and blackening!”
The vision stayed with him all his life – a mystery as to how
“The one be many.” How thousands of creatures
Operated as a single entity, performing extreme stunts
Of swirling acrobatics – free from gravitational pull.
Coleridge was at the time devising an ideal community,
A utopia, which he called a Pantisocracy,
And which, together with his fellow poet, Robert Southey,
He planned to introduce to America.
Now here were starlings creating a miraculous order
Just by instinct. It was an object lesson,
Spelled out by nature herself, as to how human beings
Might happily interact and co-operate.
Watching starlings, on Otmoor, two hundred years later
I saw them spelling out the same lesson:
A towering organism was moving in perfect formation
With no discernible leader. No President.
It whooshed through the air at forty miles an hour.
Each bird reacted to another bird’s movement
In a hundredth of a millisecond. They tumbled and banked
In synchronized, spatial symmetry – collision free.
They moved like iron filings drawn by a magnetic field
To create their sophisticated, aerial society;
A society that flies, instead of creeping along, suborned
By unnatural pressures and alien orders,
And the flock’s structure echoes the physics of magnetism
With each particle’s electron spin
Aligning with its neighbor’s in a symbiotic harmony
Like a metal entity becoming magnetized.
It hints at the discovery of a universal principle
Which seems to tap into a natural order:
A physiological mechanism, happening almost simultaneously,
In birds that are separated by hundreds of feet.
Since they can mimic us with an unusual facility
It shouldn’t be too hard to mimic them:
To rise high on nature rather than wrecking it;
To enjoy a life that no one can condemn.
There are no controlling starlings exercising force;
Not a single bird’s left behind in isolation.
Not one wastes time voting – they’d lose height if they did –
It’s anarchy in motion, and a glorious revelation.
Extracts from the book-length poem Whale Nation by Heathcote Williams
From space, the planet is blue.
From space, the planet is the territory
Not of humans, but of the whale.
Blue seas cover seven-tenths of the of the earth’s surface,
And are the domain of the largest brain ever created,
With a fifty-million-year-old smile.
Ancient, unknown mammals left the land
In search of food or sanctuary,
And walked into the water.
Their arms and hands changed into water-wings;
Their tails turned into boomerang-shaped tail-flukes,
Enabling them to fly, almost weightless, through the oceans;
Their hind-legs disappeared, buried deep within their flanks.
Free from land-based pressures:
Free from droughts, earthquakes, ice-ages, volcanoes, famine,
Larger brains evolved, ten times as old as man’s…
Other creatures, with a larger cerebral cortex…
Whale families, whale tribes,
All have different songs:
An acoustic picture-language,
Spirited pulses relayed through water
At five times the speed sounds travels through air,
Varied enough to express complex emotions,
A sense of the unknown.
A lone Humpback may put on a solo concert lasting for days.
Within a Humpback’s half-hour song
There are a hundred million bytes.
A million changes of frequency,
And a million tonal twists…
An Odyssey, as information-packed as Homer’s,
Can be told in thirty minutes;
Fifty-million-year-old sagas of continuous whale mind:
Accounts of the forces of nature;
The minutiae of a shared consciousness;
The accumulated knowledge of the past;
Rumours of ancestors, the Archaeoceti,
With life-spans of two and three hundred years;
Memories of loss;
Memories of ideal love;
Memories of meetings…
As the light began to recede, Liam and Maggie were roaming in the gloaming of evening’s onset. Close by, a young male badger foraged for worms. Liam decided to call him Alden – meaning old friend, since he had been the very first of the clan’s cubs to overcome his natural cautiousness towards the strange human.
While perched on Liam’s shoulder, Maggie suddenly became very animated. True to the meaning of the first part of her name, Maggie began chattering insistently, as if guiding Liam in a particular direction. Gradually, a shape like a Japanese Zen gateway emerged in the failing light – two upright posts joined by a crossbeam. Maggie flew the short distance to the crossbeam and began hopping from side to side of the entrance. Liam could resist no longer. Eventually understanding her promptings, he went through the aperture.
Immediately, the strangest sensations seized his body. Every vestige of what he had been in his short life until now was stripped away as if each atom was rearranging itself. He had entered as a young human. What emerged was a badger of an equivalent age.For Maggie it was no surprise. She danced atop the gateway in delight.
Although Alden’s dim, compromised eyesight had witnessed everything that had gone on with his one-time human companion, his sense of smell told him there was a strange badger in his clan’s territory. He was initially alarmed and ready for a fray as his territorial instincts heightened and came to the fore. This signalled danger for the transformed Liam. All badgers, especially the males, can be fierce in defence of their territory, and the ensuing conflicts can lead to some serious injuries. However, something of Liam’s human smell had survived his transition. It echoed close to the surface in Alden’s olfactory memory and subdued his instinct to attack. After all, even as a human, Liam had become a strange adjunct to the clan, and badgers are fiercely loyal to their family. Soon, Liam and he were romping together in pure badger style. It seemed the most natural thing to do. Liam was discovering and inhabiting his second nature. He wondered if any of his own kind had the potential to understand on that level.
Following their romping games, the two young badgers returned to the sett.When Liam entered the domed entrance he was not prepared for what he found within. He had entered a labyrinth, which would unfold over a thousand metres. Established more than a century before, it had been a place of safety for generations of badgers to retreat underground during the day, shelter from adverse weather conditions, raise their young, sleep, socialise with other clan members and keep warm during the winter.
The main sett was made up of many different chambers. Each chamber clearly had a different function. These were interlinked by a maze of tunnels with many active entrances. Off the main sett, Liam eventually discovered subsidiary setts, where he found his friend, Boudica, and her three cubs; two females and one male. Despite her dominant position within the clan, she had chosen to nest there because it was much quieter. The cubs were, in human parlance, ‘exceedingly cute’. Straight away, Liam’s heart was captured by them as he watched them play and saw how they interacted with each other.
To each he gave a name to reflect the characteristics he saw. There was a magical mist enveloping the scene he witnessed. The names he chose to identify these visions of delight were drawn from stories which, just occasionally, had managed temporarily to bring a fleeting joy into his young life. The smallest he called Fae meaning fairy. She looked so fragile when he first saw her. Her sister seemed very concerned that their larger brother’s rough male play should not inadvertently harm little Fae, so Liam called her Willa, the protector. The male cub seemed to have a sense of independence and magic about him. Liam named him Merlin after the magician, the helper and guide to King Arthur in the Legends of the Round Table tales, which had enchanted Liam’s young imagination.
Throughout, Liam’s human appetite remained. Often at night he returned to the gateway and became a boy again. He scavenged the bins but always took no more than he might need for several days. When his hunger was satisfied, he would take the uneaten food and stash it safely, close to the sett, but not too close, in order to avoid attracting unwelcome fellow scavengers.
Whilst Maggie remained his companion, on his way back he would collect any road kills he found for her to feast on. After seven months her feathers had finally grown back. She became agitated and clearly needed to leave. In comparison to Liam, her life’s span was likely to be a short one. In line with the rest of her species, it was possible it may be as little as two and a half years in all, probably no more than four years. As much time as was hers, she needed to live it. The debts each owed the other were cancelled out. He was sad to see her fly away but glad to see her healthy and free.
Extract from ‘Puukala and the legend of the Great White Whale by David T Reilly + Anthony Bygraves
And so Puukula continued his friendship with Sousa. The seal knew the ice pack well and the two spent many hours exploring its hidden mysteries. One of their favourite places was Sousa’s ice cave. The whale had followed his friend under the ice one day and swam until he thought even his big lungs would burst, then Sousa brought them up into a cave deep beneath the thick ice, a crystal amphitheatre created by the joining of several enormous icebergs. Here Puukula loved to sing, his voice echoing and re-echoing around the cave’s icy walls, creating a majestic and magical sound.
He told Arku about the ice cave and invited him to join Sousa and him for a demonstration of its acoustic properties. The whale said that as much as he might enjoy it, he was too old to go gallivanting about under the ice and anyway he had heard the beautiful sounds coming from the cave, everyone had. Puukula’s performance could be heard right across the bay from shore to shore whenever he sang there.
Now it happened one evening when Sousa and Puukula had resurfaced from a visit to their hideaway that they heard a strange cry coming from a ways off across the ice. It was almost lost in the wind, but then they heard it again.“What’s that?” Puukula asked his friend. “Something’s in trouble that’s for sure.”
Sousa pulled himself up on to a floe and listened again, trying to pinpoint in which direction was coming from. “It’s just a man child.” Sousa dived back into the water.
“Shouldn’t we help it?” asked Puukula, pushing himself up out of the water in an attempt to see across the jumbled ice. “They kill our young, never hearing their cries for mercy – I have no sympathy for man.” With that Sousa started to swim away in the opposite direction.
“Wait!” cried the whale. “ We can’t just leave a fellow creature in distress.”
“Man kills whales as well as seals Puukula. You’ll get no thanks for your trouble – leave it to its fate.”
But Puukula would not be deterred and began to swim strongly between the bobbing ice floes in the cry’s direction. Reluctantly Sousa followed, not wishing to desert his friend, but all the while telling him how foolhardy he was being. Soon they reached the edge of the ice field and Sousa pulled himself up on a passing floe to take a look around. Not far away he spotted a furry bundle lying on another floe and standing over it was a predator whose fearsome reputation was second to none – an adult polar bear. Pawing at the furry bundle, the bear rolled it over and it was then that Sousa caught sight of the terrified face of a small Inuit boy. The bear looked up and saw the seal. Thinking that perhaps there was another meal in the offing he left the Inuit child and ambled across the ice toward Sousa. The seal knew he had plenty of time to escape, so he called out to his friend.
“It’s no use Puukula – the man child’s done for – we are helpless to save him now.”
With that he cleared the ice and disappeared into the dark water. Seeing the bear had left his human prize unguarded, Puukula made an instant decision. He swam alongside the floe and nudged it with his head. At first the Inuit didn’t understand what Puukula was trying to do, but the bear did and began a headlong dash back across the ice. The bear was almost upon them when the boy, with what little strength he had left, climbed on to Puukula’s broad back. Feeling the child’s weight on him, the whale turned to swim away, but the bear, furious at being cheated out of its prey, leapt across the floe and lashed out in one last desperate attempt to reclaim its meal.
Powerful razor sharp claws missed the child’s head by inches, but dug into Puukula’s side, leaving a deep and bloody gash several inches long in the young whale’s flesh. He had never known such pain and just wanted to dive beneath the waves to escape, but with the boy clinging to his back, that was impossible. As the bear moved in to take another vicious swipe, Puukula raised his tail flukes high in the air and brought them crashing down on to the water. The ice floe rocked violently and the bear, caught completely by surprise, lost his footing and fell back hard on to the unyielding ice. It lay there winded and dazed, giving whale and boy time to get away.
Moving through the chilly water, Puukula began to feel the warmth of the boy’s body and the child’s heart beating – it beat in time with his own. The blood from their wounds ran together into the cold arctic, staining the ocean. For a moment they were brothers and Puukula remembered the verse from The Legend.
‘The day will dawn when all shall see
Two lives with but one destiny
The oceans welcome back their son
And man and whale shall live as one.’
A new song began to rise from Puukula’s heart, his voice echoing through the clear, cold air. It was a song of pure joy that reached out to embrace the soul of every living thing. Sousa re-joined the whale and praised him for his bravery, but still not understanding why he had put himself in such danger to save a man-child. “We are all brothers Sousa – one day you’ll understand.”
The seal guided Puukula to a nearby Inuit village, but when its inhabitants sighted the lone whale, Sousa retreated to a safe distance to watch. Many kayaks came out into the bay and quickly surrounded the whale. He showed no fear – he sensed only gratitude from these men, whose strong hands lifted the little boy from his back. Though exhausted he spoke to Puukula. The young whale could not understand the words, he saw in the boy’s eyes the unmistakable sign of friendship, a bond that would exist between them forever. Truly they were now brothers. He took one last look at the thankful faces around him then, with a smooth flip of his tail flukes, slid beneath the water.
Hurt no living thing ~Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Hurt no living thing
Ladybird, nor butterfly
Nor moth with dusty wing
Nor cricket chirping cheerily
Nor grasshopper so light of leap
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat
Nor harmless worms that creep