from a book of poetry published by New River Press.
— Emily Dickinson, from a letter to Eugenia Hall
‘Why,’ said the Dodo, ‘the best way to explain it is to do it.’
— Lewis Carroll, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
* * *
Lewis Carroll was nicknamed the Dodo
Because of his inveterate stutter.
Asked his name, he’d reply ‘Do-Do-Dodgson’.
He found ‘Carroll’ easier to utter.
So Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the clergyman,
Became Lewis Carroll, author of distinction,
Who’d revive the Dodo in his ‘Alice in Wonderland’ —
The real Dodo having suffered from extinction.
For Lewis Carroll had been very intrigued
By something he’d seen in a Museum:
A large-cropped bulbous bird that was stuffed
And could be seen in the old Ashmolean.
Two hundred years before, a Dodo had been captured
By sailors stopping off in Mauritius.
They’d thought it part goose, part vulture and were fearful –
Sailors being naturally superstitious.
But the bird was fearless and easily lured aboard
By an offer of unlimited ship’s biscuits.
By a miracle the bird survived the crew’s curiosity
And their wondering if it tasted delicious.
After it had lived out its life in England
A taxidermist was called when it died.
He stuffed it and, to retain its luxuriant plumage,
Cunning preservatives were applied.
Its first owner in its afterlife was John Tradescant,
Who passed it onto Elias Ashmole,
Since then this comical but salutary creature
Has become a curator of the earth’s soul.
For through it man’s begun to learn that extinction
Can last for the rest of time
And thus cherish an inhabitant of paradise whose life
Was ended by a carnivorous crime.
A Dutch sailor, Volkert Evertsz, described the bird
As showing concern for its fellow creature:
“When I held one, he cried and others ran forward
To help the bird that was held prisoner.”
In ‘Wonderland’ the Dodo’s portrayed as benign
Given its invention of a ‘caucus race’
In which everyone entering ends up winning
And is accordingly then given a prize.
People say that something’s “as dead as a Dodo”
As if relishing the Dodo’s demise,
Yet it lives on as an innocent victim of that progress
That prefers sunset to a hopeful sunrise.
The Dodo may have died out from being too nice;
Large and flightless with an excess of trust.
Those who last saw it alive in the seventeenth century
Said the Dodo was friendly. And now it’s dust.
When it was alive it was briefly displayed in London
As part of an urban freak show;
In death it’s become a testament to the folly of mankind,
A less loveable laughing-stock than the Dodo.
— Heathcote Williams
This poem was previously published by Cold Turkey Press on a card limited to 36 copies.