The Billions, by Libby Hart
How do you truly articulate seismic loss?
How sorrow lands in the body? How it changes shape?
Ground as ash, whole animal cultures gone.
Lament is a continual act, a fragile vocabulary.
Emu-wren. Flying fox. Platypus.
Each day was a furnace. Ferocious. Scorched.
Kangaroo. Echidna. Wombat.
Staggering numbers. Disturbing reports.
Possum. Honeyeater. Frog.
Fire maps and ruination. An area larger than England.
Koala. Planthopper. Treecreeper.
Flames crowned the canopies. Smoke drifted to Chile.
Potoroo. Livestock. Skink.
Monstrous clouds. Crimson sky.
King parrot. Cockatoo. Rosella.
Washed up on beaches, swathed in burnt leaves.
Whipbird. Robin. Lorikeet.
Bright plumage along the coastline.
Aftermath transposed to dust storm then pandemic.
And still, they fall.
Wildlife in China from coronavirus disinfectants.
Swarms of bats across Israel.
Hundreds of elephants in Botswana.
Hundreds of herons in Turkey.
Hundreds of penguins in Brazil.
Hundreds of turtles in India and Mexico.
Thousands of flamingos in Iran.
Thousands of swallows and swifts in Greece.
Thousands of seabirds in Scotland.
Over a thousand dolphins in France.
Hundreds of thousands of dead mussels in New Zealand.
Countless fish in Italy, Taiwan and Nigeria.
Tons of them in other countries, too.
All snuffed out. By indifference or blunder. By greed.
They fall. Keep falling. They disappear.
Note: "Lament is a continual act" cites Pádraig Ó Tuama from an observation he made at the Dodge Poetry Festival 2020. Almost three billion animals were killed or displaced in Australia’s devastating 2019-2020 bushfire season, an event regarded as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history. Further, during the first months of the global pandemic, mass mortality events (when large numbers of individuals of a single species die within a short timeframe) accrued at an alarming rate.
Libby Hart is an award-winning Australian poet and finalist of major literary prizes. She is the author of three collections of poetry: Wild (shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards), This Floating World (shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and The Age Book of the Year Awards), and Fresh News from the Arctic (winner of the Anne Elder Award and shortlisted for the Mary Gilmore Prize).