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Pascale Petit: a poem

Photograph by Brian Fraser

Jungle Owlet

What you didn't tell me

is how poachers cut off their claws

and break bones in one wing

so they can't perch or fly,

that their eyes are sold as pujas,

boiled in broth, so herdsmen

can see in the dark.

You didn't say how sorcerers

keep their skulls, their barred feathers,

their livers and hearts,

or how they drink their blood and tears.

You didn't mention how a tortured

owl will speak like a young girl

to reveal where treasure is buried.

My kind granny who took me in

when I was homeless,

who sat down this very evening

after I had gone to bed

and wrote Mother a stern letter,

telling her that she must take me back,

it doesn't matter where – Paris, Wales,

Timbuktu. No more excuses,

you are tired. And here, your slanted writing

is almost illegible, but what

I think it says is that you cannot

look after a teenage owlet.

You use your favourite pet name.

I've never spoken of this before.

I call it up my gullet from the pit

at the bottom of my thirteenth year,

along with my crushed bones,

my stolen blood, and I spit it out

through my torn-off beak, in

language that passes for human.

Pascale’s eighth collection, Tiger Girl, published by Bloodaxe in 2020, won an RSL Literature  Matters Award while in progress. Her seventh collection Mama Amazonica, published by Bloodaxe in 2017, won the Royal Society of Literature’s 2018 Ondaatje Prize. Four of Pascale’s earlier collections were shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. In 2018 she was appointed as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

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