Where Once She Danced

by Anne Casey, Australia

beyond the sleepy dapplings of the mangroves
trailing lazy limbs into the drowsing waves
across the turquoise crests of placid currents
that lap up to the gently sloping shore
 
out past the breakers idly frothing
beneath the rolling drifts of whitecap spray
once I saw her dance, her head encircled brightly
in blooming rubicund and blazing saffron stars
 
tresses dressed with every hue there budding
ribbons streaming emerald and vivid sapphire-blue
peacock-feathered tendrils trailed behind her
a giant clam gasped deep and wide with awe
 
humpback whale came to slowly drift above her
their voices joined the wind to sing her praise
seals paused to frolic in her swirlings
a maori wrasse gliding past took his fill
 
and later as the evening stretched and lingered
slow to let the day slip to the sea
the sun came slanting through that glassy window
to spread a crimson blanket for her sleep
 
leaping with first light came the dugongs
and dolphins circling idly by her side
dragon-fish nimbly flitting through her fingers
Neptune’s Cup Sponge brushing past her toes
 
as clownfish coaxed a path around her shoulders
where her braids were twined with amber
and with rose; turtles grazed on grassy rolling
borders, porcupine ray rippling in the flats
 
ribboned pipefish nibbled at the treats she offered
mantis shrimp and krill came picking at the crumbs
in her garden suffuse with every colour
bottlebrush bordered staghorn skirting ferns
 
but storms came to dash her radiant features
her gorgeous tresses have all turned white with woe
her feathered boas are falling all around her
blossoms fading from magenta, fuschia, gold
 
angelfish in anguish bow their heads down
swimming hard against a swiftly rising tide
she is drowning in a sea awash with cobalt
deadly metals fill the channels where she breathes
 
her lovely limbs are shackled down with plastics
her lungs are laced with deadly manganese
a crown of thorns to pierce her pretty head
a bed of sludge to lull her in her dreams
 
her cherished creatures perish all around her
in the clutch of slowly simmering seas
where once beyond the dapplings of the mangroves
beneath the drowsing waves and turquoise crests
 
way out past the breakers idly frothing,
I saw her dance, her head encircled brightly
in blooming rubicund and blazing saffron stars
tresses dressed with every hue there budding
 
ribbons streaming emerald and vivid sapphire-blue

This poem is a lament for the Great Barrier Reef, the largest living structure on Earth, which is in dire jeopardy due to the impacts of human activities. It was awarded 2nd Place and Highly Commended in the Planet in Peril Poetry Competition (UK), a joint initiative by Fly on the Wall Poetry Press; World Wildlife Fund; The Climate Coalition; Dr Michelle Cain (Oxford University); former Derbyshire Poet Laureate, Helen Mort; and wildlife photographer, Emily Gellard. It was published in Planet in Peril anthology (Fly on the Wall 2019). This poem was also selected for performance by professional actors as part of The Monologue Adventure in Sydney in May 2019.

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