87Beavers: In Memoriam

Bereaved

A poem by Robert Alcock

1

Bereft, bereaved,
the river grieves

her eager lover,
her healer, her sculptor.

Crafty, intelligent,
in his element
in her element,

every behaviour
a force of nature;

feverish wielder
of iron-toothed shovel,
adze and axe and chisel,

felling birch and alder;
willow weaver; builder
in mud and timber
of lodge and barrier,

slowing the flow
of her too-hasty water,

catching sediment,
sifting it, saving it
for her catchment;

leaving
in his wake
a sunlit lake,

seeded
with weed and reed —
his vegan feast;

hosting and feeding
a host of other species:

newt and salamander,
moorhen and gander,
rail and flycatcher,
vole and trout and otter;

until with many seasons
pool is succeeded
by meadow,
waders by grazers,

and he heads to a new
bend of the river,
renews his vow,
his gift to her.

No longer, now.

Bereft, bereaved,
the river grieves

her spark-bringer,
her shape-shifter,
her creator, her saviour.

2

His misfortune:
to be worth a fortune,

a price on his head,
prized more dead
than living,
as pelt, felt, and scent:

untold wealth

bought and sold
and hoarded

by unbelievers,
hearts full of craving,
dammed with greed
for silver and gold
that gleam in the bank,

never seeing
the flicker and fold
of sun-sheen
on a stream bank.

They came as thieves,
trapped and seized,
misprised, mythologised:

called him a fish,
a meatless dish,
who'd bite off his balls
before he'd submit;

and offering up
their own masculinity
on the bloody altar
of a mad divinity,

drove him
over the brink
to extinction.

3

Meanwhile,
across the great water,
from his stolen fur
men built
harbour and fort,
fought
a hundred-year war
for his coat —

Iroquois, Huron,
English, Dutch, French:

the hunters won,
the rivers wept;

the men kept
grasping and killing,
striving and building,

until outposts
were ports,
forts
were states,

and the wealth
that poured downriver
was caught
in the sieve
of a great city

where men in tall hats,
priests of Enterprise,
prophets of shiny Profit,

traded and plotted
in lodge and bourse,

and laid out
their main square
atop his drained pond

on the island
hunting ground
called Manhattan.

4

So the builder's pelt
built a new world
that soon outgrew his coat:

grew and grew,
knowing only
how to grow.

Fur fell out of fashion;
the cities forgot him

but the river
never forgot,
never stopped
weeping,
kept bleeding
silt to the salt sea;

to a river
what are centuries?

Foam floats by endlessly.

5

Then one morning
in spring,
the river in spate,
he saunters
jauntily
out of a crate.

No showy reunion,
no show of emotion
after their long separation;

he tastes the air,
doesn't waste the light,
starts his search
for a suitable
building site.

Retrieved, delivered,
reintroduced
by human beings
being humane,
for a change:

his good fortune, to be
no longer worth a fortune
dead, but prized
as he is, alive
— by the wise;

there are plenty
who don't agree,
call him a pest,
call for his head;

his "protected status"
a paper-thin wall
of paperwork.

He's oblivious,
to him paper's best
shredded
to make a nest.

They shred it:

perpetrate
a legal slaughter,
eighty-seven dead,
blood in the water.

Once again
men demonstrate
that they dominate,

subjugate nature,

eliminate the neighbour
whose behaviour
they can't tolerate,
even if
they stand to benefit.

And the river
is left
bereft.