Text – Part 1
The Rhinoceros Song And The Sea
About the poem: Perhaps (I wondered) the rhinocerine culture holds to its own origin myths; one that tells how their ancient woolly ancestor, Coelodonta Antiquitatis, was, in the great Oligocene regression of the tropics to the equatorial belt, 21–26 million years ago, guided across the ocean by the universal songs of the sea, a navigational symphony presided over by a cetacean choir of humpback whales. For how else is it that these same songs became the lingua franca of the rainforest rhinoceros of Sumatra?
However as settlement and land clearance accelerates through the 21st century these Dicerorhinus Sumatensis, naturally reclusive individualists, find it harder and harder to overcome endemic isolation to find their promised love, and the songs that once echoed through the rainforest are fast fading from this planet’s repertoire.
In The Rhinoceros Song and the Sea, the first fable from an opera suite called The Rhinocerotidae, I have imagined the life, love and longing of a menopausal rhino in the jungle glades of Sumatra.
Old Rhinini hums the ancient lullaby,
Its provenance as shadowy as the jungle floor,
Its strange syllables salty as the sea,
Echoes of an ancient ocean crossing
song-guided by Benevolents of yore
seep through its melismas into memory
as legend into mythos seeps.
Old Rhinini cries out for Dicero,
the lover she had conjured in her youth.
Now made flesh he wanders near.
A little late, She sighs
But once she heard his voice,
‘Eeeep’, she voices softly.
There’s no reply today.
Old Rhinini sniffs a piece of dung she keeps .
Finders keepers, Finders keepers…
Mmmmm, a faecal trace of you,
spiced with the scent of leaves I cannot reach,
Not since the jungle cleaved in two
a fragrant sign of you,
passing here. But when?
Before the season turned
Before the jungle bled.
Old wisdom knows the secrets locked within this calling card;
his way, his health his heart
Where he watered, where he wallowed, where he fed,
Finders Keepers, this sweet earth of you,
but the seasons turned and then
the jungle bled
Reverie draws Rhinini to the thinning edge
where aliens have trod away the landscape and move like ants between their piled rubble.
Where her lovers song,
sucked sideways into slipstreams,
eddies, scattered in the turbulent melange.
This gulf, this cancer,
swallowing the paths of lifetimes passing;
where once time lay layered
in clay-hard shims,
where I perchance heard echoes
of the old ones sing,
now end abruptly in abyss.
She draws back into gloomy heartlands
to the wombing comfort,
To wallow in her private mudden bath.
. . .
A tiny scream ..
made so small by distance,
pinpricks the calm
As if some minor prey by harimau brought down
Yet more than terror thrills through blanket vines,
A tad too shrill it strikes
in deep amigdala
For squealing predator not prey it is
that utters such tormented sounds
as if its soul demented by the crime.
And it’s the voiceless agony
of jungle sentinels that palls,
to hear their cracking spine,
their flailing arms,
Beloved tenants flee,
the suicide route to ground,
And each twin towers tree,
shockingly crashing down
The mantle gashed,
A gaping wound
that lames the gaian body
and every part
from bright crown to secret dark
from leech to leaf to elephant
feels the body smart.
Ho! ka mudiak! Awas! Tarik!
Hep, kiri-kiri! Alah! Jadi. (thud)
Old Rhinini holds her ground,
still as a stone
Still as a twitching, quivering
straining a tufted ear
Cukuik, tarik, dorong, lagi!
Old Rhinini aches with the tree,
Awas, ke hilir, ke hilir, ke hilir
the pain without witnessed within
Hep, kiri-kiri! Alah! Jadi (thud)
the trunk her leg, the bough her limb
The breaking bough,
ark ark ark ark aaark!!!!
Smell.. (she sniffs the air) …the Fear
The little people flee
in the still dark
my thudding heart
my bones a brittle thrum
the stabbing light in my eye
Run, the dreadful crack of spine, Run,
Run, the creaking twisting down down down
The plunge to silent mourning ground
until the still dark wraps around
my thudding thudding heart.
Again like tearing flesh from skin
The sudden daylight flooding in
ark ark ark ark aaark!!!
All seeds and feathers tossed upon the wind
An old Rhinoceros naked in the brightness,
A hush. A shout.
Elok-elok! Awas, badak
The loggers hearts a-thudding, fear and beading sweat
To greet this strangely wild,
ditembok, ditahan, tangkap
as myth? or mortal threat?
Jangan dekat, mati awak, pelan pelan!
This tete a tete…
suspending time and breath,
All hearts in mouth…
biped and odd-toed ungulate.
Ark ark ark ark aaark!!!!
The birds, dislodged, aloft, looked down
And many winged but one of mind
And each a tuft of hair a fold of skin a whiskered ear a pinch of limb
a thousand tiny tweezer beaks and flapping wings made light of
that great Rhino queen.
Up up the drag she felt it twinge,
up up, the stretching saggy skin,
up up the dizzy heady spin,
up up above the little men, the crowning green,
the view unfurled, the thick and thin, the ragged rim a-glimmer in the savage sun.
And there for all to sickly see,
And there for all to witness
And there for all to grieve
You asked where.
your shy and galant Dicero,
Each violent breach
has rent apart young bull from matriarch
Rendered up a share of wild, arboreal shadow-zone
from lovers reach.
You were bold, Shy Dicero, to dream
wrapt in night, slip past the settlements,
uncovered over threadbare hostile hill
to seed a dream, to serenade
to plant a kiss on Rhinus lips
to explode your deep primordial essence
stir a spark of life, to spawn a calf
But no no no no No!
Song silenced here alone
Your golden horn
that crowned your gentle whiskered face
Has judas kissed away your love,
Seeping crimson from its gaping wound.
Striated amber keratin,
so fine so beautiful to touch
is ground to dust mere dust
Elixir only to the rhino, heaving,
full of life.
. . .
Old Rhinini cannot name the anguish
Her first glimpse of love
from unearthly height
hijacked by unearthly grief
Her furrowed eye wellspring of an aeon’s tears,
brims up and rolls one briny orb that drops
into the Java Sea
tossing up, hoh, in its salty spray
of humpback whale polyphony
sonic droplets rise
like mist on melismatic flurries
with fragments floating fresh in voice and memory
“The songs, the songs.. These are my songs”
the swaying ungulate exclaims
“O Let me follow my tears,
for my clan, my clan
They are calling me in, draw near they sing
So long its been, to hear them sing”
And she sang in an ecstasy of eeps and wails,
Sang to the mist to the foam to the sea
But the birds, they hiss and can’t agree
Nobody would drop their precious cargo into the sea
“Fly on, fly on; Fly down; theres nothing there.
Fly back; its best we fly on track.
She wants the song; Oblivion.
To Borneo, where rhinos throng.
Its just the song of Ghosts you hear;
No, No, its Grief ringing in your ear;
No, No, its prehistoric Rhino fish that never left the sea.
You’re barking Ma-a-aaark aaark aark aark aark!
As each beak of bird to bicker opens
to lose collective grip in the commotion
Old Rhinini feels her body falling,
falling, singing, calling,
like a shaggy, saggy angel,
graceful, silent, slow, tumbling,
rushing toward the ocean wallow.
into the dream,
I fall, I dive (she sings)
Into the dream, the chant
the voice of earth
of moon, of star
to guide my body
falling weightless in a fluid blue]
I dream, I surely do.
The last dung of Dicero
long dry-lodged, safe, between her toes
dissolves in the briny sea
as past and future merge with primal foam.
And great cetacean choristers
enchanted by their sudden guest
enfold her rhinus song, so like their own,
of strange patois but all-familiar melodies
enfold her earthen voice
in complex Ur-mammalian symphonies,
and swim her in their midst beyond…, beyond…
So merged again the songs
. . .
In Borneo treetops,
birds are counting down,
Two hundred and twenty five
Two hundred and twenty four
Rhinoceros Libretto Part 2&3 (5pTREATMENT+sketches)
Copyright: indija mahjoeddin 2012