My sister wondered where each passionfruit
disappeared to, just as it ripened. Tiny black holes?
Or local possums’ black-hole guts?
But what about her dingo and spaniel/poodle mix – surely
good dogs would defend the bounty of their backyard
against marauders. Surely.
Could it be kids hopping the back fence
despite sharp-spiked bougainvillea
and dogs’ shining teeth? Unlikely.
Birds? A glorious dark plague
of black cockatoos descended from the heavens
before every almond would-be harvest. All too likely.
Surely not rats, too small
to carry near-ripe globes of passion
in their tiny paws. It was a mystery.
The finches – “meeps” – in their small aviary
were the only witnesses to the nightly theft
until one morning – horror – my sister smelled a rat.
The tiny terror must have squeezed through birdproof bars
and rampaged through the meeps. Body parts
and bloody feathers strewed the sandy floor.
The rat was too fat, now, too full of finches,
to squeeze back through the bars. Poor little meeps.
The well-fed dogs had slept
right through the massacre. Rat? What rat?
My sister, squeamish about murdering the murderer
gave the beast a sporting chance. The cage door opened
while the dogs watched. Fattened rat sprinted
for the fence, ducked through a tiny gap
between the palings. Five seconds more
and the dingo might have snagged its tail
but no. The rat had got home free.
The spoodle looked on, baffled.
Rats one, dogs nil, no finches left on the field.
The cockatiels and galah squawked consolation
doing their best to comfort the bereaved.
More than half my snow pea seedlings
had disappeared, no trace left.
Marauding birds at dawn, or snails.
So much for plans of sweet peapods
crunched raw and cool each afternoon.
Frankly cranky, I walked the deck
and almost accidentally squished
the biggest slug I’ve ever seen –
long as my hand, thicker than my thumb.
So, the culprit!
Seeing me, or feeling my steps
on the deck, it halted
trying to make itself invisible.
This was a monster-mollusc,
stranger than any garden predator
I'd ever seen. And what
was that weird red mark
almost a triangle
high on its back, right between
where its shoulders would have been
if slugs had arms?
Something stopped me
from finding a stick or rock
to crush the garden enemy
destroyer of seedlings.
Inside the house, I looked it up.
Like a blue whale sifting plankton,
this gentle giant slug eats only algae.
Plenty of that on the rocks at the edge
of the damp garden bed.
I don't know why the small monster
had slithered noiseless
out of whatever shady trove of algae
that it grazed. Perhaps our house
smelled of mould, delicious
after the weeks of rain. I turned my back
and in a minute, maybe two,
it disappeared back to its secret
algal feeding grounds.
Jenny Blackford lives in Newcastle, Australia. Her poems and stories have appeared in Australian Poetry Journal, Westerly, Going Down Swinging and more. Her poetry prizes include first place in the Thunderbolt Prize for Crime Poetry 2017, the Connemara Mussel Festival Poetry Competition 2016 and the Humorous Verse section of the Henry Lawson awards in 2014 and 2017, as well as third in the ACU Prize for Literature 2014. Pitt Street Poetry published an illustrated pamphlet of her cat poems, The Duties of a Cat, in 2013, and her first full-length book of poetry, The Loyalty of Chickens, in 2017.