Saturday, 8 January 2011

Poem of the Week: 'Tusking' by Mick Imlah

Oxford Don and Poetry Editor for the Times Literary Supplement, Mick Imlah tragically died of motor neurone disease in 2009 at the age of 52. Imlah was best known for his poetry collections Birthmarks (1988) and The Lost Leader (2008), which both showed to best effect his characteristic wit, skills in punning and also a delectable display of rhyme. 'Tusking' is taken from the January 2009 edition of the TLS, and fits in very nicely with Helicon's new theme, 'Wild'.

Mick Imlah

In Africa once
A herd of Harrow
Elephants strayed
Far from their bunks;
Leather, they lay
Their costly trunks
And ears of felt
Down on the veldt. 

All forgot
The creep of dusk:
A moonbeam stole
Along each tusk;
Snores and sighs.
Oh foolish boys!
The English Elephant
Never lies! 

In the night-time, lithe
Shadows with little
Glinting teeth
Whisked tusks away;
Drew through the dark
Branches of ivory,
Made a great hue 
On their rapid run.

Hunters, at home
They curl up the bare
Soles of their feet
With piano-pleasure;
Sammy plays
A massacre song
With the notes wrong
On Massa's baby.

Out in the bush
Is silence now;
Savannah seas
Have islands now;
Smelly land-masses,
Bloody, cold,
Disfigured places
With fly-blown faces.

And each of us rests
After his fashion;
Elephant, English,
Butcher, Bushman;
Now only the herding
Boy in a singlet
Worries his goat
With a peaceful prod. 

But if, one night
As you stroll the verandah
Observing with wonder
The place of the white
Specks in the universe,
Brilliant and clear –
Sipping your whisky
And pissed with fear –

You happen to hear
Over the tinkle
Of ice and Schubert
A sawing – a drilling –
The bellow and trump
Of a vast pain –
Pity the hulks!
Play it again!


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