cecil & the badgers

I was out on a dog walk, hanging around that corner of the woods where the badgers live (or some of the badgers, I should say. In fact, I’ve only ever seen one, hurrying home like someone weighed down with shopping bags, late for an appointment). I was impressed by the amount of work the badgers had been putting in, major excavations by the look of it, a great tract of sandy soil kicked out from one of the burrows, along with all the leaves and twigs they’d been using as bedding. It looked pretty deep. I thought if this was anything to go by, we were in for a hard winter.

I’d just rejoined the main path when I saw Jenny striding along, her pug Cecil waddling out in front. I waved, and waited. Cecil reached me first, checking me over in that abrupt, flat-faced way he has, a border guard demanding my papers.

‘Oh for goodness sake!’ says Jenny, waving him away. ‘Leave the poor man alone!’
‘How are you, Jenny?’
‘I’m fine, thank you,’ she says. ‘I only wish I could say the same for Cecil.’
‘Why? What’s wrong?’
‘What isn’t wrong, more to the point. He’s on antibiotics. For his ears. And now he’s completely off his food. He’s just not interested. I’ve tried everything – even his favourite, raw mince.’
‘Raw mince?’
‘Nothing. Not a sniff.’
‘Sorry to hear it.’
I look down at Cecil. I’ve never seen such a healthy-looking dog. Sleek lines, muscular back. I can imagine him in the Olympics, shoving a javelin through the air, or wrestling another pug flat on its back.
‘He’s wasting away,’ says Jenny. ‘Poor thing!’
Cecil is bored by all the attention. He starts eating some grass, with great relish, his slobbery tongue slapping at the leaves.
‘Cecil no!’ yells Jenny, hauling him away. ‘For goodness sake! You’ll kill yourself at this rate!’
He huffs indignantly, then waddles further ahead to eat the grass there, in peace.
‘He slept with me last night,’ says Jenny, dragging her hair back, making a mime of putting it into a non-existent scrunchie, then releasing it to spring forwards into exactly the same position. ‘It’s so unlike him. I didn’t mind, though. It meant I could keep an eye on him. Anyway. How are you?’
‘Yeah. I’m fine. I was just looking at the badgers. They’re digging deep. I wonder if it’s going to be a hard winter.’
‘Badgers’ says Jenny, glancing over her shoulder with a shudder. ‘I don’t think Cecil is all that good with badgers.’

sig

the old dance

the fallow field
that runs down to the wood
has fallen to the clearances
including, I’m sorry to say,
one half of the badger sett
that extended from the treeline
to the flag of a lone goat willow
and an armoury of brambles.
(the flag dropped
before the tracks of the digger;
the thorns were out-toothed
by the bucket)

but badgers don’t know
the meaning of defeat
(I think it’s safe to say)
because I suppose nature
has its hard ways, too
and all you can do
is get on and survive
anyway, suffice to say,
they wasted no time
over the next couple of weeks
doing a bit of digging of their own
excavating old runs
opening new ones
reinforcing, extending, clearing
all on the woodland side
and this morning when I went
to see how they were getting on
I found slag piles slung
from a number of holes
scree slopes of sandy soil
deep-found stones, roots, sticks
and in amongst it all
the skull and hip bones of a rabbit
the femur of a badger

I wasn’t shocked
I mean, it’s been a good while since I thought
badgers were grumpy but essentially kind
reading books in high-backed chairs
carrying a candle each night to bed
and I know, intellectually at least,
that when a badger dies
or any of the other animals that share
its extensive chambers
they hold no vigil
around some other hole entirely
heads bowed, paws folded,
incanting from Thessalonians
the mourner’s kaddish
or Ṣalāt al-Janāzah
no. they get busy
with the bustling shuffleP1130078
they’ve known for years without thinking
head down into the darker earth
front paw to back
with a flick and a shuffle and a flick
out with the roots
out with the stones
out with the bones
making good the ways
making good the days
making good the sett

postmortem

I smell the badger before I see it / sprawled flat / on its back / in a bramble thicket / right by my boot

despite my revulsion / I have a compulsion / to witness the scene / so I part the brambles to get a better look

black and white fur laid out to the root / that fine spine / those whorls of ribs / teeth and skull / the whole machine / cruelly broken open / exposed to the rain / raw mortality / measured out in maggots / diptera / coleoptera / devout followers / hotly rolling in the hollow chamber of an eye

and suddenly I don’t want to be there / horribly aware / of the pattern of bones / in my boots / the rooks in the trees / the roots below / and I really have to go / get well away from there / and fill my lungs with cleaner air

alas, poor badgerIMG_1495
go, get you to the sett / tell them / let them eat a thousand worms /
to this favour they must come