Its claws are rubber-banded shut.

The deep blue of its carapace

is splashed with white; a Hokusai

breaker, a tie-dyed t-shirt of chitin.


Her carmined nails reach in to grasp.

I think of the pale pink keratin

beneath those lacquered superstimuli;

of how the shell will colour-shift to coral

as all that sea’s boiled out of it.










Pheasants and Ravens


Pheasants assemble in wary dozens

around blue hoppers in the private woods.

Ravens fend for themselves,

and own all the highest treetops.


Pheasants are their own autumn landscapes,

finished off with christmassy heads.

Ravens are whatever colour you require,

provided it’s black.


Pheasants echo their one word for alarm

across the country miles.

Ravens talk fluently in gutturals

it’s hard to place precisely.


Pheasants fly if they must, struggle

to clear hedges, panic themselves into roadkill.

Ravens glide, soar, and plunge, riding

the air’s invisible rollercoasters.


Pheasants end up plucked, displayed

in plastic packs at farmers’ markets.

Ravens keep glaring out of antique woodcuts,

the dark stars of undying dramas.




Devil's Coach Horse


A Devil's Coach Horse crossed my path today,

one inch of velvet-black malevolence.

I bent and placed a finger in its way;

it arced into a horseshoe in defence


then scuttled up onto my finger tip.

I flung it to the ground instinctively,

imagining the agonising grip

its fiendish mandibles might have on me.


Cock-tail or Coffin-cutter; names accrete

around it like the stories in a book

of how it damns by pointing, or will eat

dead sinners, or can kill with just a look


and only can be safely killed by flame.

Translated as 'swift-footed fetid one',

Ocypus olens is the proper name

science nailed it with. Watch it break free and run


as through the vast mute years it ran its course

before it ever thus was represented,

or any coach was drawn by any horse,

or any devil ever was invented.






























Poems by Mark Totterdell



I used to be a seeker after otters,

frequenting twilit riverbanks; the Taw

and Torridge, where Tarka wasn’t (relishing

the chime of our names), the Dart, the Exe,

the Otter itself. I needed signs,

reading meanings into ripples, mud-marks,

faint distant whistles. The closest I came

was when I knelt to smell their scented spraints.


Then a woman told me how they’d gone

urban like foxes, following the rails

into town for new opportunities

and easy meals, how they now moved among us,

how she’d opened her door in a city street

to stumble on an otter raiding binbags;

a tale not quite so tall I disbelieved it,

though with most of my heart I wanted to.

Shaggy Ink Caps


A clutch of buds, a clump of the oddest eggs,

is bubbling up from the soil’s abyss.


Pluck the pale stubby fingers; they twist

from their fittings as if it was intended.


Think of them sectioned like squid,

sautéed in butter with pepper.


They are fruition, the culminations of complexities,

of extensive networks of connections.


Animal or vegetable is not the question;

they sprang from the base of the imagined tree.


Autumn is their spring; as they thrust up leaves fall,

birds fly off and insects fail.


Leave some to deliquesce

their message darkly onto earth’s interface.


In the kitchen they split unexpectedly

along the lines of their burnt-paper gills.



The holly’s leaves

are dark, and sharp

as any pin could be,


but you don’t know

and I won’t say

just what that means to me.


They catch the light

at countless points

and scatter it for free,


but you won’t know

and I can’t say

just what that means to me.


So many thousand

tiny suns

are glinting on the tree,


but you can’t know

and I daren’t  say

just what that means to me.



Out of the piping of my pen

the ink flows dark and full

onto each empty waiting page,

with simple truths to tell


of innocence and harmony,

how all the world’s one whole,

of fish and fowl, of beast and tree,

the aptness of it all.


Up from the wellspring of my brain

the words unceasing spill,

as if they had the power to soothe

the sting that’s in the tale;


a world away, a gulf apart,

profounder by a mile,

there lies that other well, of which

I cannot speak at all.