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i A Short History of Extinction

River rats, Coptic dogs,
driven from the demesnes and wapentakes
hunted par force in the waterways
with dogs and traps and clubs;
good money paid for their pelt’s
stiff hair and voluptuous underfur;
the sensuous elixir of their castoreum,
its scent of vanilla, chypre and plum;
their paddle-tail’s backcountry fat,
and their sweet red Lenten meat.
Two pence bounty paid in Bolton Percy Church
for the last beaver’s head.
How often do we get the chance
to try again?

ii Song of the Beaver

Water shaman; double-lidded, double-lipped,
       back toes webbed like a bat’s black wing.
It combs perfumed oil through its deep dark coat
       with a special split toe. It must have a moat.
It must have a lodge piled high with sticks and mud
       and inside it, a nest of dry shredded wood.
It must have a shallow pool so the kits can learn to swim
       and an underwater tunnel to enter the lodge unseen.
To fell a tree, you must have a reinforced skull
       & ferrous, orange teeth.
To survive, you must have foresight & stealth.
       I tutored you, woodsman. I showed you how
to coppice & thin, how to ford a stream.
       I taught the engineer to dam, & terrace, & sluice,
I taught the salmon to leap & the willow to shoot.
       I owe you nothing. You made me extinct.
Now I’m teaching you how to come back from the brink.

iii Song of the Dam / Intuitive Hydrologists

water is a shapeshifter 
       that can brim ooze weep 
percolate through stone  
       that drips trickles evaporates
into invisible air
       hard to catch 
impossible to corral 
       yet this is our vocation – 			
to keep a fluid steadiness 
       in the lush & green-shoot places –  
& water is all our husbandry: 
       how to dam & brace 
how to shore it up with sticks & stones & mud 
       whatever we can find 
old fenceposts, bricks
       we cross-weave daub & fix 
impound the water 
       do not let it run
IF IT RUNS DROP EVERYTHING
     REPAIR THE DAM
these are our reservoirs & hoards 
      the water gardens of our lives
our sustenance & refuge 
      the way we survive
& everywhere it spills 
      the green-world thrives.

iv Beavers on the River Otter

Watch as they re-meander 
the straitened river
rewet the meadow 
till it is part mire
a mosaic of pond and bog
and cropped beaver-lawn;
river keepers
thinning the wood
letting the light back in.

v Song of the Riparian Zone

Come iris, come moor grass, come sphagnum and sedge,
come water mint growing round the beaver-lawn’s edge;
come aspen, come willow, come guelder, come hazel,
come hawker, come mayfly, come blue demoiselle;
come otter, come bubble-mouse, water vole and shrew,
come pearl-bordered fritillary and silver studded blue;
come yellow hammer, warbler, come dipper and teal,
come stone loach, come stickleback, lamprey and eel,
come spangled reed beetle supping air through a straw
for the river keeper is returned once more.

vi Heartsong

Always may there be a stand of balsam
set back from the river, and a mama beaver 
emerged from her nest into early dusk,  
grooming her punky, wicked fur,
steeping her tail in the water & eating,
the noise of her chomping like kissing; 
& always her kits will be slipping  
under the fringe of the willow to reach her,
and almost with a sigh, almost with a shrug 
she’ll turn and waddle up the bank 
dock a branch and trawl it back 
to where they bicker & play & feed in their recess 
of water & reed; & the bliss of their dwelling 
will rest on the evening, it is here.

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