Two Poems by Joanna Lilley

Short-faced bear

I snort and suck the air for distant
carcass stench to clench my craving.
I run as far as sun-drop,

as far as mammoth, slick and spilled.
I watch the huddle-feast yet do not
undo my persistent pace.

These stocky cats will see me,
barge back to let me in and rip.
Or I will swipe their bites

across this stiff savannah.
For I must shove my muzzle, my cranium
in corpses, crack and fissure

borrowed bones – or eat a cub
or kit a day. My hunger serves me,
now that I must run from, as well as to.

The upright creatures stink of the chilling lands
they came from. They stare, I flee, as they fling
their pointed limbs to split, unblood me.


Desmostylus hersperus

Slide in, sand or shingle,
I am sturdy, broad, fixed footed.
I have found my rock
to straddle, slosh and anchor.

Water-sleep is sluggish grace
for the bulky on land.
Water is the colour of me,
flat-headed, only eyes and nostrils
popping surface tension.

Low-bellied, forelegs right-angled,
braced, to aim my trowel head
at mud roots. I move up the estuary
for the food I know I eat,
though my stone-turned bones
will leave no dietary confirmation.

I bequeath my bullet casing teeth,
my barrel of ribs, my spine
of wooden cotton reels, my neck
as thick and cluttered as a fir cone.

My genes will perish with my progeny.
Yet I am elephant.
I am hippopotamus.
I am every swim and wallow
in the cooling waters
of the ring of fire.


Joanna Lilley is the author of the poetry collection, The Fleece Era (Brick Books), which was nominated for the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry, and the short story collection, The Birthday Books (Hagios Press). Her second poetry collection If There Were Roads was published by Turnstone Press in 2017. Joanna is from the UK and has lived in Yukon, Canada, for the past 11 years.