Lucretius Meets Platypus*^
Lucretius Mud lay in a stream
draped across semi-submerged fallen branches.
He took shallow breaths.
Bushfire smoke, infused with vaporized eucalyptus-oil
tumbled down the bank like rolags of carded wool.
Leaf-boats packed with ants drifted
by his bemused right eye.
His left eye, open below the water watched
drowning ants struggling to climb aboard.
‘Man overboard! ' he slurred. He amused
himself by repeating this several times.
Tannin water sluiced his gummy tongue.
A swirl of brown water solidified into a duck-billed platypus.
‘Who are you? ' asked Platypus.
‘I’m………., ' replied Lucretius.
‘Why are you here? ’ asked Platypus.
‘I…….forget, ' replied Lucretius.
Warming to the task, Platypus lifted a webbed foot;
‘What year is it, who’s the prime minister,
how many fingers am I holding up and what’s
the meaning of ‘this’! ? ' he demanded.
Lucretius was stumped.
‘Ah……, ' said Platypus, adding:
‘The boy stands on the burning deck
without a good excuse.
His name could be Melchizedek
but probably it’s Bruce.’
Lucretius’ interest was piqued.
‘That’s quite good um………..may I call you Duck-bill? ' he asked.
‘Thank you Bruce and I’d rather you didn’t’ replied Platypus.
‘Oh……., ' said Lucretius, adding:
‘The boy lay on the smoky grill,
“Good on ya! ” cheered the crew,
and all on board the ‘Ducky Bill’
enjoyed a barbeque.’
‘Sorry, have I said something wrong, ' asked Lucretius,
noting the dismayed expression of his companion.
‘No Bruce, it’s not your fault. It’s a common misperception that
I have a duck bill, whereas in fact I have rubbery spade-shaped
snout covered in soft skin, pliable and fleshy around the edges
and with nostrils at the tip rather like your own’.
‘I do apologize, ’ said Lucretius, ‘let me try again:
‘The boy asked, “May I leave the grill? '
The mate said, “Hangabout,
this dredger isn’t ‘Ducky Bill’
you fool, it’s ‘Spadey Snout! ''
‘Thank you Bruce, I prefer that version. You’re right,
my snout is an effective dredger in the mud…..’
‘Mud? ’ exclaimed Lucretius, ‘Yes – my name is Mud! '
‘Don’t say that, ' protested Platypus, ‘I like you very much!
Let’s be friends until our dying-day,
which in your case could be today.
Allow me to confer the honorific of Monotreme -
Why, if my cousin Echidna was here…..’
‘Echidna? ' exclaimed Lucretius, ‘Of course! I came here
to study ants and echidnas too because they eat ants you see.
I’m an archaeologist really, but it’s a long story….’
A damp breeze skittered across the water
spinning woolly smoke into finer and finer strands
until it disappeared. Lucretius gratefully flushed his lungs
and the duck-billed platypus dissolved
in a swirl of ash brown water.
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Poet's Notes about The Poem
Platypus is a character from the series of poems marked with a^
Comments about this poem (Lucretius Meets Platypus*^ by Diane Hine )
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If You Forget Me
Still I Rise
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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
William Ernest Henley