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Favourite Drinks of Captive Animals & other poems

By Erik Kennedy.

New Frontiers in Reconstruction

You can’t visit the past, but you can visit where the past happened. This is why I scratch the same dry patches on my legs every winter. And this is why people book holidays to Machu Picchu and not the nearest branch library with a copy of Hiram Bingham’s Lost City of the Incas. When what has happened in a place is suddenly made to unhappen, we call that ruin. In Palmyra, massive 3-D printers ‘should enable us to rebuild what has been destroyed inside six months,’ and we, the watching world, will have two flavours to choose from: ‘completely indistinguishable from the original’ or better than the original. It is tempting to take heart from this example, where there are actual blueprints for reconstruction, to analogise about the reconstruction of a country, but if you did that you’d be a wet, credulous juggins. Prioritising heritage over lives is precisely the marker of civilisation, and the strongest reason to leave it.

Planet Nine

A planet this size and in this orbit is common around other stars in the rest of the galaxy, but we didn’t know we had our own. This is possibly a case of frustrated perspective. The burrowing creature doesn’t know how big the hill it digs into is, the digit is ignorant of the number it’s a part of, etc. The unknown is a local version of the known. Or—and this is often how we see things—a dramatic latency is there to fascinate us. A gene expresses itself in later life with shocking consequences, a character reveals his noble origins in the penultimate chapter (so a wedding can take place), after ten thousand years of astronomy a body that takes ten thousand years to circle us lets itself be found.

Favourite Drinks of Captive Animals

The Rasputin of elephants, Mademoiselle Garnier’s ungovernable pachyderm was poisoned three times (unsuccessfully) before it was shot with a four-pounder cannon (successfully). It was 31 May 1820 in Geneva, and I’d have said they were different times until a zoo gorilla was shot today in Cincinnati for the crime of holding a boy. Was the gorilla scheming or protecting? Was the elephant menacing or merry-making? Obviously we don’t know, because we understand animals as well as we understand a newsreader speaking Etruscan. It’s sad how no-one thinks that killing is his default setting, but no-one thinks anything until not thinking it is too humiliating to tolerate. We’re not there yet. Still, the cause of courtesy and empathy is advanced now and then, like when the first poison administered to the elephant was three ounces of prussic acid masked by ten ounces of brandy, ‘which was the animal’s favourite liquor’.

How the ‘Development Wagon’ Got Its Name

The anthropologist tells us, as an anecdote, that in rural Nepal cars are called ‘development wagons’ because only development agency workers have them. This is fair, I think to myself, like calling corncob pipes ‘snowman pipes’ because only snowmen have them. Is this the power of the powerless bystander, I ask the anthropologist—the power to name what it can’t control? The long reply is one of general agreement. To paraphrase: Development comes from without their borders, tradition from within. Only when one dies can the other live. To be rural and modern at the same time is to be suspiciously alive, hyper-alive. So there is something inevitable about these gently judgemental associations. They happen before they’re known, as the brain commits to moving a finger half a second before a conscious decision is made.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erik Kennedy‘s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in places like The Morning Star, Oxford Poetry, and Poems in Which in the UK, Ladowich, Ohio Edit, and Prelude in the US, and Landfall and Sport in New Zealand. He is the poetry editor for Queen Mob’s Teahouse. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, June 5th, 2016.