Winner of the World Wetlands Day Poetry Prize: IN MY OTHER LIFE by Virginia Creer

Red necked stints
Red necked stints – photo by Vishnu Prahalad

IN MY OTHER LIFE

 

In my other life I knew so much that people paid

for my wisdom. I knew the best design for sliced bread

wrappers, and how to earn a better price for tea bags.

 

I knew how to boost sales of fresh Scottish fish

and frozen New Zealand Lamb, and how to ask

young men to join the British army, stop drink-

 

driving, shop in Marks and Sparks and use condoms.

And when I sat on a table in Turin wearing Armani

and swinging my legs, I knew that a covey of Italians

 

would believe I could sell their rusty cars. But now I know

there’s a creature called a spangled snake-eyed skink

and another called an orange-footed shrub fowl. I know

 

that brolgas, sea eagles and green pygmy geese mate

for life but jaberoos don’t. I know that all of the freshwater

mangrove is poisonous, and if you smother a billabong

 

with its crushed leaves and berries, you can scoop

the fish off the top for your tucker but when you take

them away again, the water will be fine. And I know

 

there’s no power like the power of the crocodile,

and no grace like it either as hideous he slinks

and slithers round tiny flowers of snowflake

 

waterlilies and larger ones with dinner plate leaves

and lilac-washed petals, till he sinks out of sight

leaving no sign – but the chill in my spine. I know

 

a thrill in the blitzing and blasting of birds

over a billabong at sunset that isn’t in the fireworks

over Sydney Harbour and I hear the sounds

 

of that sunset: the rattles and whistles, shrills

and shrieks, the calls, croaks and cries. I will go

back to Arnhemland and sit in a silent boat in weed

 

and water-spinach in Cooper Creek Wetlands

and wind will dimple and corrugate the water and rock

and curl the waterlily leaves. Hanging vines on melaleuca

 

will sway a little, and a mob of plumed whistling geese

will totter and turn and scatter and re-form, like men going

into the grandstand at a football match. And the crocodile

 

will lie with wide-open jaws (to cool his brain)

as the comb-crested jacana, seeming to walk

on water, flirts across the lilies, bobs and flicks

 

on darning-needle toes, and squeaks

that she will not be his dinner.

 

 

 

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