Mrs Giftshop and I were listening to the story of two Latvian wolves who had escaped from a pen in the south of France, heading toward the Pyrenees. We began to think of what the wolves might be saying to each other, given that the south of France is nearly as rife with covid as we are. "Don't eat the ones that cough, they're off." MG thought that would make a good line for a kids' poem about a nearly-post-human paradise for animals. I couldn't shoehorn the line into the story, but this is what I came up with.
Deep in the woods, where the beasts are the queens
There’s a story that beast mothers tell
About how everything is not quite as it seems
And they say to the kids: ‘Mark it well.’
And when they say: ‘Mark it,’ that’s just what they mean
They mean: ‘Pee on a tree or a post.’
They mean: Mark it to keep out the last human beings
The ones that the beasts call the Ghosts.
‘But humans are tasty, delicious and good,’
Say the beast-children, drooling a little.
‘And the beast-goddess made them to be beast-food,
With their muscly legs and fat middles.
And crunchy front paws with spindly claws
That we use as toothpicks and back-scratchers,
And although they’re quite big, they’re not quick at all
So we hunt them, and they can’t catch us.
Why do we want the Ghosts to steer clear?
Why do we stop them from coming?
Why not just let the humans walk here,
Instead of us beasts going hunting?’
‘I’ll tell you for why,’ says the mother-of-beasts,
‘You see, all you kids know is the present
The times that we live are heaven - a feast
But once it was so very different
The rivers alive with salmon and trout
Lily fronds, larvae and otters:
The beautiful world in which we run about
Was not always this way, little daughters
Once there were millions of humans to see
Like flies on a big heap of dung
And when you saw humans, you’d hide in a tree,
Dig a hole, fly away, or just run
Mostly the humans would be inside boxes
Like the ones we see scattered around
But then they’d appear on horses, and foxes
Would run from their slavering hounds
Every few days they’d come into the woods
In packets of four, five and six
All wrapped up in cotton and thick plastic hoods
All poking the ground with their sticks
All stamping and running around on two legs
And barking away at each other
At sunset they’d hammer in sharp metal pegs
And sleep under thick plastic covers
The beasts who lived next to the human beings
With troughs full of pellets and hay
And protection and shelter - or so it seemed
until, once a year, came the day
That the beasts would be herded into metal crates.
Moving boxes would pull them away
In time we all learned of the terrible fate
That became of the beasts that day
And all of the beasts that lived in the wood
Would scurry and burrow and hide
When humans arrived - they were up to no good
You make friends with a human? You die.
And that was the rule as we all understood
See a human: ears back, run for cover
Get back to your own special part of the wood
Your warren or den, and your mother.
They cut down the trees and they flattened the land
For their boxes to move on, and then
They hammered in posts with big metal hands.
We couldn’t see how it would end
But then things changed, the humans got less
The boxes all seemed to stop moving
When humans stopped coming and making a mess
The woodland was suddenly thriving
Flowers and trees burst clean through the dirt
Where the humans’ two feet had trodden
Colour began to come back to the earth
The worst of the terrors forgotten
Beasts walked across the land that was flattened
Without boxes with bright lights to hit them
insects with wings in myriad patterns
Fed on flowers with no humans to pick them
The beasts of the fields that the humans once ate
Broke through the wires to be free
We all have reverted to our natural state
In the woods, moors and down to the sea
And some beasts fear other beasts - that’s how it is
But we all live our lives as we should
The last of the humans huddle in cities
And the beasts all hunt them for food
But beware of the ghosts, of the humans that wander
Away from the cities alone
Their metal sticks with a crack like thunder
Can still being a brave beast down
So although they are fur-less, flabby and weak
And hopelessly easy to fight
Although they’re delicious when turned into steak
Be careful which humans you bite.