…though striped in part was not, in fact, a tiger,
or feline in any way, but related
to the kangaroo, so a marsupial,
with a head and muzzle a bit like a bear’s,
and the dimensions of an Alsatian dog.
Somebody named him Benjamin – a joke
probably: the last of Jacob’s sons,
and Israel’s progenitor. Some footage
survives, in black and white, of the animal
in his small, bleak cage in Hobart Zoo.
The newsreel’s pompous and slightly smarmy
voice-over, accompanied by tea-dance jazz,
tells us the beast was ‘forced out of his
natural habitat by the march
of civilisation’. Presumably
whoever wrote the script had more in mind than
the penal colony, or the genocide
of the Palawi peoples, whose land
of temperate heathlands and forests,
wind-weathered mountains, rich estuaries
this had been for more than thirty thousand years.
The Palawi, watching those wan copies
of proper human beings, who arrived
unbidden, with their extravagant
paraphernalia, in big boats
borne by pale, shifting cloths like clouds,
may have wondered what barren place those angry
impostors came from, showing no respect
for what flies or swims or walks, or even
for the water or the air, for anything,
especially each other.