Echidna by Jan Owen

A stook of fossil hay spooked to move,
he stops the first ant-hole’s gold cone,
tongue just right for the tight hole
dry of black lava he muzzles in, ruthless,
three or four earth-scattering seconds.
He’s crumbed his snout, this shoulder-shambling
sumo waddle on littlest legs, this small decision
teetering in the balance. His charcoal spines
tipped veldt-grass yellow close cosy as feathers
snugging an owl, a strokable neatness dappered down
slick to centre back and tailed with a cactus cowlick.
At my step he’s a-quiver, horripilous, digging in
all stop-start as if in doubt:
hunger gives him second thoughts.
I touch the fine flat central spines and feel him think,
a shrinking in like ripples of water over stone,
then further under the leaves he’s gone
like a housewife in a huff frumping off early
under the quilt in a warning of curlers.
I scatter some bark on the last raised quiff.
The path he’s come is a waste of snuffed ant nests
and deeper holes by crumbling logs;
this patch of scrub is all echidna dreaming –
the amber fuzz of banksia, the fallen she-oak cones,
the dried-out grass trees hunkered down
going to ground like this samurai loner
all swagger and shimmy and shove
who nevertheless will need, come spring,
a whole like-minded team to trundle
a channel around his touchy mate
before the goal’s up under and in.

From: http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/owen-jan/echidna-0750189

Date: 2008

By: Jan Owen (1940- )

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