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You could sense expectation, the kids at the cage after the whole King Kong experience,
a pecs-bashing, jungle titan performance from the attraction, sprawled across the floor like a discarded coat. A crowd of boys plopped mints like mothballs through the bars, to lure a look, a rise; the body lumbering,
on hands and knees it seemed, to centre stage,
the beaten stance and cowed, obedient eyes still holding their magnificence. I thought I'd found a new dawn of Darwin, I thought I'd found the origin of suffering,
would've put my cheek against his long malaise,
said brother, forefather, I know what this is.
I Had a Brindled Cow
I had a brindled cow,
Sheltered in the byre.
What became of the brindled cow?
I traded her for money.
What became of the money?
The river swept it away.
What became of the river?
Black bulls lapped it up.
What became of the black bulls?
They vanished down a long road.
What became of the long road?
It was overgrown by madder.
What became of the madder?
Young girls picked the flowers.
What became of the girls?
They rode away with young men.
What became of the young men?
They lived in manors beyond the hills.
What became of the manors?
They all went up in blue flames,
They dwindled down to ashes.
What became of the pile of ashes?
A black hen raked it away.
What became of the black hen?
A hawk carried her off.
What became of the hawk?
He vanished over green groves.
What became of the green groves?
The sons of God felled the trees.
What became of the sons of God?
They climbed up into the sky,
Strumming strings, drumming drums.
What are they doing in the sky?
They sit behind a table writing ?
Who shall die, who shall live,
On this earth beneath the sun.
TRANSLATED FROM LATVIAN BY BITITE VINKLERS
'I Had a Brindled Cow' belongs to the traditional Latvian folk songs known as the dainas, handed down orally from generation to generation. Collected primarily in the late nineteenth century and numbering over 30,000 texts, they are included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. The poem is probably a winter solstice song, when predictions were made about life and death in the coming year.
The Flood Committee
The cat is hosting secret salons with the songbird. Peace talks beneath the hawthorn bush in a language neither mew nor purr nor the siren-savage warble he saves for others of his kind.
He chatters now in sweet vibrato,
a pidgin trill the songbird looks as if she understands, at least one note in every three.
Cat's paws are pom-poms, the claws retracted his arms laid down on forest floor.
Soon the dog will come to join them and after that, the sheep, the horse. A flood committee,
who read the signs and own the blueprints and resolve, this time, to keep us out the Ark.
In a bath with baking soda the boy pondered the vanished bird: spindly wings netted with veins,
tufts of fuzz at the wattled throat, the skin there pink and feathered as an old man's neck or hand. Black eyes visible through skeins of lids. The soft pink belly like a clam.
Later he'd dream of swimming in air without a float or wings, of a raw chicken in a pot of wine and herbs, and the bald neighbour who spoke by holding a box to his throat.
It had dropped from the elm to the driveway.
The boy had watched it whine and rasp,
then fetched a flour sack and his doctor's kit.
The scalding water pinked his skin, pruned his finger bulbs so that he couldn't see the whorls.
His mother dipped a toothbrush in acetone,
scrubbed beneath the child's transparent nails.
She put the boy to bed, the bandaged bird,
expired, between the fence and garden shed,
the toy stethoscope in a bowl of bleach –
clean of its work, its good intentions.
All night, the elm swam in its net of stars.
Disease would take it and the neighbour but not that summer, not that night.
The boy swam circles around the old man's metal lawn chair. The chicken danced in its savoury bath and the old man sang like a gramophone or robot so remember this, life is no abyss,
somewhere there's a bluebird of happiness as green crabapples plunked from the branches onto macadam.
'You smell like apples'
was the first thing he barked at me.
That's what conversations with him were like,
an attack – like a pest, one with wings, incoming –
that the attackee would bat away from their ears,
instinctively at first, then on purpose.
He was a tick.
Needy, latching on – but he didn't seem to know it.
I kept my expression quiet, and my body neutral –
playing dead keeps most predators at bay.
It was quiet. We all knew. He: the last to.
Realisation rearranged his balance and steamed up his face with anger, and not just regular anger either but the kind marinating in shame.
Peacocking drove his actions – entitlement akin to plumage. He had a list with check marks on it – a very long one that he carried around behind his zip. We are all on the list.
You (they) are easy to spot because they (you) have a persistent unalterable uniform, and a please notice me desperate stench on them like skin is worn. Lone wolves, or running in packs; gaggles of men intent on nourishing themselves with, at the very least, glances that equal a way in.
His glance was my way in.
He cleared his throat, twice, then coughed into the hole he made with his fist and cleared his throat again. It wasn't enough, so he did a pull-up. He wasn't above this.
In the train window's reflection, my eyes were all over him like skin is worn.
When my mother says I was her kit taken from her too early,
I think not of cats but a wolverine,
my devourer of snowfields, who,
when she can find no more prey,
eats herself, even the frozen bones.
I crawl down the black phone line as if it's an umbilicus to the last refuge on our planet,
towards whatever back country happens to be her territory today.
My nails remember to claw.
I lope up the icefall she's retreated to, that's melting behind her as she climbs her precipice, too drunk on freedom to come down.
She shows me the den where words are born fighting. I do not blame her.
I hold the receiver against my face as if it's her muzzle, her reek of blizzard-breath. I embrace the backward-barbed teeth that can fell a moose and gnaw even its hooves.
Kit – she spits the word out in a half-love half-snarl and I am her glutton, scavenging on my yelp when I was torn from her after birth,
and again now – not long before she dies.
The boughs sagged.
The ground swelled.
I'd planted no garden,
but now it was harvest time.
Bees had beaten me to the pears. I sidled into a bower of fraught boughs that closed in
as the bees gloved each next fruit in their rife numbers.
So were it better to unearth onions?
One lay peeled and pale on a raised bed.
Then I realised:
you were watching me.
Not as you are but as you're ripening to be.
'Cheat!' you screeched,
an eye glowering
in the deep shade, reached,
grasped a bough, shook it hard,
loosed a squall of fruit and bees you meant to be
the end of me.
The most unlikely fish,
swimming upright like a streetlamp
in an ocean.
I'd love to say
when I first learned you were a seahorse everything
fell into place.
How you'd been curled into the circles
of your spine –
breathing bubbles into your paper-cut
I'd love to say I've always understood
of your water-pace,
your cellophane-like fins
that could be wings,
or once were wings,
the most unlikely Pegasus.
Once upon a time there was a seahorse – a yellow seahorse –
a little lemon bubble like a curl of light and rain.
But now that my palm is as flat
as the ocean –
The Alligator Get-Out Clause
Pre-history, an evil eye, sinister-sleek mississippiensis, walking Appalachian,
taut, primed to roll, a grizzled submarine.
The alligator owns the pool, the 18 holes,
the bayou, parking lot, riverside. Beware your trespass: ancient, hungry, vacant,
the alligator does not care about your kids,
your direct debits, cholesterol, insurance wavers.
The alligator does not know forgiveness,
is inhumanly patient. Long and quiet, you cease in its alien eyes. When it moves, don't resist –
the alligator has spent millennia perfecting its bite.
for Gaia, born November 3rd
You appeared under the shower spray like an auspice. My contact lenses not yet in place, I thought you were a clump of hair,
a rubber washer, a fallen clasp just visible beneath my full moon belly,
Squatting, I saw six black hinges,
pincers neat as needlework raised as if mid-stitch,
your tail curled up – not, as I thought,
primed to strike but a hook for a finger to lift it from the basin.
We faced each other through the steam,
both in that instant unafraid yet deadly to the other –
you scuttled off before presence of mind made me scream through to the next room where you were not yet born.
Sweet little nipper,
polished onyx, precious brooch.
Six hours later, worn out,
blood still fresh between my legs,
I fastened you to my breast.
Something is digging the stuffing from the old red plush of the seat behind you in the darkened theatre.
And later, with the rain falling not-quite-right in the headlights, and the odd half-glimpsed zigzag,
and the cat's eyes coming unstuck, that soft tugtugging at your collar grows insistent: they are still here.
Still here, with their quick fingers and luminous eyes,
their spook faces, their fingers hooked like questions.
You meet them half way, know them from halfway places –
the empty A-road, the mezzanine, the bent reflection in the lift doors before they purr open again on the things you know: phones ringing, people.
They are a nuisance. They have so many questions and no respect for the living. They prod and pinch,
they stare. They paw at the glass between what is yours and what is theirs. Do not feed them – they will always want more. They will steal from you. Pickpockets,
rifling the snug pouches at the back of the mind,
and that one narrow finger grubbing, rat-a-tat,
for your soft spot. They never stop. They belong to you
and they will wait for you – in the borders of the wet garden,
the silence behind the beech hedge. They hoard rubber balls and the past and all your lost things, and always want to know when you're coming back, when you're coming back, when.
The Incredible Mrs Fox
You can fill the vase with as many cotters of lavender as you like, but nothing will mask his scat.
He drags in the dawn through a crack in the curtain,
light running over his chin slippery as cracked egg.
And you just can't open your eyes fully yet, see him slink into bed, aftershaved in vixen sweat,
a silk cloak of dew spittled onto his coat. Those fires he wove through Lyke Wake aren't quite dead, not yet.
The fur retracts slowly, his cheek bristles into your neck bright as the slag in the pockets of his kecks on the floor,
waiting for a man to step in. It's a nightly surrender,
your lisk and lish, lick and lap, black feathers lodged
between incisor and gum raining onto your face, cuckoo-spit on his lips soaping the questions off your tongue.
You kiss him with one eye firmly on the door and watch the sensible woman you were skulk out to the landing.
An elegant young olinguito swung down from the trees into Quito.
She extended her paw
to the first man she saw and purred 'Pass me a god-damn mojito.'
On 15th August 2013 scientists announced the discovery of a new mammal, the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), in the Andes.
You may think
he's hungry for crickets and that's why
the vivarium glass with his delicate claw
but you'd be wrong
go on – slide open the door
place your finger
under his pouchy jaw tickle his skin
watch how he settles
how he curves his mouth into a blissful grin
no, there's no need
to wear gloves he won't put up a fight
he may be cold to the touch
but inside he's alight.
Documentary on the Pangolin
She is how we imagine ourselves as lovers:
hardened – the
advance, poised as if
to defuse a bomb.
Like a monk with a clasped haul
of keys, leaning to unlock the termite
mound and cover the body in insect
vengeance. But the pangolin
she can shoulder such a siege. These armour plates
could be kiln-fired. She is a piglet
pinecone. Her name in Indonesian:
trenggiling, the sound
of tank-treads collaborating, of a shield formation assembling along the hillside
on the border of the heart's
deepest territory, as the tongue
collects these black morsels
by the dozen, extending stickily
into every nook of the nest.
Like us, she coils around
that is her own soft centre.
All night I shall labour,
as fast as
paint your lawn, with silvery
as I can
to make exquisite filigrees,
through which the moon
I shall seek
in the cool
I ask no
no praise –
reflect upon my work and smile.
i am dor beetle, i am scarab,
the forest's senior waste management technician.
i'd just punched out, was walking home and then this happened –
what a day, i'll tell them.
Catapulted by a blackbird hop,
an almost-pebble gleams jewel-blue in the dust, flipped like a shiny penny.
Heads you make it, tails you don't and it's your lucky day: she'll flutter you sideways in a puff of leaf-litter before the footstep-rumbles come,
just in time.
i pick forward, one leg less,
perhaps, or a little shaken up.
with thighs like mine i could have run this wood, father used to say; not now.
but still, these biceps. swagger.
i'll sleep it off.
There is a beast that runs naked through the streets,
setting fire to bins,
trying on clothes in stores,
dresses she drops on the pavement as passers-by gawk,
who throws coins at the crowds and offers credit cards to kids.
Her tail is long as her body and helps keep her balanced as she climbs the stone trunks of strange cities.
When she was ten she could fight off gangs,
win every cat-fight,
could skip along jagged-glass walls as they jeered about her mammy.
When rats leapt over her bed she caught them.
Now, the doctors ask her who she is and she says:
I am the fierce fossa of Madagascar,
I eat your cats and dogs,
my red tail is a torch that sets fire to your cars.
They ask her again,
as she races around their consulting rooms.
They keep asking until she gives the right answer.
Cryptoprocta ferox she bawls in that voice she keeps for emergencies like all the males are after her and she's not ready.
Wrong! They shout, wrong!
They shave her red-brown fur these he-doctors and again she tries to escape,
to scale the towers of Liverpool, Cardiff ...
Still she insists she's the ferocious spirit of the Kirindy Forest,
the last daughter of her species.
They ask: Who tamed you?
She sits on the chair and growls at the ghost that's always there
following her down the cobbled alleys.
The Roach, she says, that playboy, lie-a-bed
who fucked the world while I worked,
who tore into me before I reached the mating tree,
before I offered myself on the bridal branch, the high one where I could kick off ugly suitors.
Zebra on East 55th and 3rd
Unfazed, he grazes on popcorn and nachos from a Keep New York City Clean litter bin,
shrouded in a canopy of cloud that leaches through the steel bars of a subway vent.
Sneakered commuters steam by, too busy to notice, too drunk on mobile devices.
Outside P.J. Clarke's a woman's whistle lassos a yellow cab, hoists it kerbside.
Brooklyn, she snorts to the Iraqi driver.
The zebra lifts obsidian eyes, squints at the transaction, the tap of a Yankees cap and brays. His tail flicks sparks
at the dark carcass of a neon sign advertising
old Beer by a 24-hour liquor store. It lights up.
He trots to the pedestrian crossing,
waits for walk to burn white and vanishes.
We are nobodies, each a few millimetres or so but high-spirited, hopping,
and yet obscure in our petty performing,
we sometimes travel en masse to fill out a "we", tremulous, brimming like a glass of water nearly spilling,
no, more like a ball rolling overland,
a half million, a million, above,
aslant, amid, springing, creeping,
seething through leaf litter and warmed by the sun that with a grand gesture exhorts and ignores us, discarded and guided by the sun among weeds and melting snow,
our multitudes bivouac beside your boot,
on the field of your hovering hand the pepper dots appear and disappear,
and who will say our two-day hadj,
perfected by a secret dispersion,
is profitless in every world
Excerpted from "Some Cannot Be Caught"
Copyright © 2018 Anja Konig and Liane Strauss.
Excerpted by permission of The Emma Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Alligator Owns The Pool,
Gorilla, by Mel Pryor,
I Had a Brindled Cow, Anonymous,
The Flood Committee, by Victoria Briggs,
Late spring, by Maggie Dietz,
'You smell like apples', by Saliann St-Clair,
My Wolverine, by Pascale Petit,
Harvest, by Gregg Friedberg,
Boy, by Stav Poleg,
The Alligator Get-Out Clause, by Russell Jones,
Scorpion, by Sharon Black,
The Lemures, by Abigail Parry,
The Incredible Mrs Fox, by Angela Readman,
The Omnivore, by Nancy Campbell,
The Whole King Kong Experience,
Frilled Lizard, by Maggie Sawkins,
Documentary on the Pangolin, by Jon Stone,
Slug, by Sandra Horn,
i, scarab, by Gabrielle Turner,
Fossa, by Pascale Petit,
Zebra on East 55th and 3rd, by Ian Humphreys,
Snowflea Migration, by Philip Fried,
Pond Requiem, by Cheryl Moskowitz,
Lesser flamingo, by Donika Kelly,
Ladybird, by Emma McKervey,
Lapwings in Fallowfield, by Katherine Horrex,
Romance in New Jersey, by Kathleen Moran Bainbridge,
Fins That Could Be Wings,
Hare, by Pauline Plummer,
Macbeth, by Eve Lacey,
Build, by Susan Richardson,
The Zoo Keeper's Song, by Maggie Sawkins,
Family Viewing, by Jacqueline Saphra,
The Fish without a Bicycle, by Shauna Robertson,
Ordeal by Water, by Helen Ivory,
Reynard, by Ruth Wiggins,
How d'ya like them apples? by Rosie Shepperd,
Myxomatosis, 1970s, by Tim Cresswell,
Are we there yet? by Maggie Dietz,
Kyril's Tale, by David Hale,
Chimpanzee Burial at Sanaga-Yong Rescue Centre, by Degna Stone,
Martha, The Last Passenger Pigeon, by Sarah Hesketh,
About the editors,
About the authors,
About the Emma Press,