A couple of posts back I mentioned Liz Bradfield's first book, INTERPRETIVE WORK (Arktoi Books, LA 2008) which is nominated for both a Lambda Literary Award and a Publishing Triangle Prize. Liz works as a naturalist, and her poems reflect a lifetime's involvement in looking at the complexity of the "natural world" -- though the poem that follows here engages the way that "natural" probably doesn't work any more as a descriptor. What hasn't been influenced by human actions? The poem speaks artfully to the plight of the manatee, those big sweet endangered mammals who love the warm waters that spill out of Florida power plants.
THE VOICE OF THE MANATEE
The voice of the manatee is shrill,
harsh as a rusted pennywhistle.
This only increases my pity, my
sad head shaking at the propeller cutwork
lathed across its muddy hide because
although its screeches rise
toward the whine of machines, it can't
hear the Evinrude, all cavitation and churn
speeding the bungalow-lined and dredged
canals of Cocoa Beach. It doesn't flinch
at kids, loud with riffs of jibe and cheer,
tossing Snackables into the mangrove roots.
The pitch of harm has been recalibrated,
and the manatee's ear isn't tuned. To it,
danger sounds like distant rumble:
a car door slams two blocks away and the manatee
lazing by the culvert, suckling
the sweet water of a garden hose
left running, twitches its bulk
and slowly begins to flee.
Above, another space shuttle
flares toward space. Below,
turtlegrass grows through old tires.
Warm water flows from the power plant.
Here is what it senses: the grass is sweet,
the canal's currents slow.
A ways off, another manatee skrils:
sweet grass, still waters, warmth.
If the poem inclines you to want more information about these creatures, have a look at Save the Manatee, an organization that would be grateful for even a modest donation to help these big gentle "sea cows" -- somewhere between a hippopotamus and an underwater blimp -- live.