Venie Environmental Poetry Prize

The Poem After Forests by A. Frances Johnson

Take the Wikipedia entries for ‘forest’ and ‘water’
and change the tense: forests are to forests were;
water is to water was. Relieve yourself of the pressure
of time; the poem forgets/forgot ruminants, rockfaces
and oceans. Never mind that Bo Peep admonishes
/admonished us, all ribbons and bows, a pointed foot,
farthingale aslant. Her rhyme never has/had
a fund for forests. Native creatures. Streams.
Sequestered pulp and coal, not words, now
light/lit and warm/ed whole worlds.
Don’t pay twice for nature poems, petticoated
energy ‘undeliverables’ that see/saw no
‘additional abatement in emissions’.
Fire, coal, tallow, electric – burn/t by
the quiet desk, so that the poet lamely
shepherds/shepherded toxic run-off. By Friday,
the last millennial pasture is all blue ruin.
Bo Peep calls/called out ‘Oh no!’ half-heartedly, pinkie
extended over tea. This art, she notes, is/was part of a great
accounting. Yet banking days are/were numbered;
company reports drive/drove home weak
rhyming couplets, all couch/ed mumble-geddon,
while the board don/ned cloaks and crooks.
They strike/struck Bo-peep down in remnant
pastures green; aaccountants with pin-prick eyes reliably
hum/med ‘Where Sheep May Safely Graze’
as figures for dead forests and toxified water
come/came in. Corks are/were popped
(the last gnarly cork trees long since harvested),
profit margins are/were toasted all over again.



Meanwhile, water is/was traded, no longer free
or pure, from the source. Plumbing is/was never democratic;
imperial engineering always a class illusion, channelled.
In African equatorial heat, women trade/d sexual favours
for half a litre so their children live/d another day.
Rhymed seas, rivers, oceans fail/ed to assist; do/did not form
munificent reservoirs. Brook, pond, waterfall, stream,
ghost/ed the modern shepherd–poet’s banked emissions.
Let’s face it, the quiet desk is/was once a tree.
The poem’s future dehydrates, plays with time. Tense.
Take the Wikipedia entries for forest and water.
Do not drink these in, or wander in the leafy shade
of comparative cultural definition. Your last task,
changing time: forests are to forests were.
Water is to water was. Relieve yourself
by the imaginary tree. There is nothing to drink.
Time to lie down with your plumbed conceits.


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