Animal Frolics (1985-1991)

(c) Copyright: Philip Rogers, Lucan, Dublin



Maternal Thoughts of a Bluebottle


Limousin Bull


Advance Farewell to Oscar


The Cat's Home




The White Rabbit (+ Jan 1988)


Empty Nest




A Bull's Notion of Research


King of the River



On a piece of rotting meat,
in a sore in a ewe's crutch,
or a hedgehog suckling's anus,
my destiny is realised
and I obey the great command:
increase and multiply
and fill the earth.

When I see my offspring writhe
in an ecstasy of blood and slime
my maternal joy and pride
spills over. Caterpillars,
crunching cabbage leaves,
leather-jackets at a dock root,
wasp-weaklings in an apple-core,
the pampered one on royal jelly,
are no match for my brood.

See their frenzy and vitality,
see them grow, hour by hour,
as the God-given morsels disappear.
Soon they will rest,
retire to a dry-leaf incubator
and the shedding of skin
will reveal the blues and greens
and hairy black hues
of the next generation.

And what a job we do.
Storm troopers of nature's scavengers,
we clean up the middens, the tip-heads.
We assure the strength of other species -
only the fittest survive our attention.
We get no credit for our work,
only vilification, sticky strips
and DDT. But still we buzz
about our business
iridescent beauties in nature's plan.



I dreamed that dreaded, drizzly dawn,
when, staggering yawning to the door to call
"Here boy! Tchlk tchlk, come on!"
your day had come to be no more.
O carefree, loving, jealous friend
why did I have to dream your end?

A tan Jack Russell was your dam,
your sire a Kerry blue;
at least a randy, curly fan
was sniffing 'round when she was due.
You came to us like Christmas mouse -
inquisitive for hidey-holes;
created havoc in the house
while learning adult roles.

The children named you Oscar. Aye,
a Celtic name and proud.
You are in all our eyes
with pride and bravery endowed.
New kennel and new wicker bed,
new collar, lead and dish;
no Bonios or tin-food mess
but well-done steak or best red fish.

Jack Russells have their tails docked short
but your appendage stays in place.
The very thought was made abort
by the children's howls and my wife's stern face.
Full member of the family,
great participant of children's play,
we brought you to the sea, the west country.
Would you stay at home? No way!

Struck twice by cars and in the wars
with trespassers who'd come to pee,
to neighbours' cats a fearsome warrior
to chase them up the nearest tree.
Each morning you would scratch the door
and yip and yelp, a plaintive din,
hoping that if you whined some more
I would relent and let you in.

And in you came! On bouncing feet,
with smiling eyes and happy grin,
you took your place beside the heat.
To love the fire was your great sin!
Last act at night, I'd coax you from your snooze.
Your accusing eye would send the blight!
Then, with a mighty body-stretch and yawn,
you would wag me to the door.

First act at dawn,
before the shave, unlatch the door
and find you there.
As ever!
Then, this morning,
while you wagged your tail
and hopped and skipped
and jumped around my feet, I knew -

I dreamed that dreaded, drizzly dawn,
when, staggering yawning to the door to call
"Here boy! Tchlk tchlk, come on!"
your day had come to be no more.
O carefree, loving, jealous friend
why did I have to dream your end?

But inspiration blew my mind apart.
you have a soul, the doggy kind. New start!

The piece was written in 1984. Oscar died on 28/11/1985, during complicated surgery to repair a ruptured diaphragm. We suspect that he had been kicked in the ribs three weeks before. I was in Australia at the time but my wife and children did everything possible to save him. He was just seven years old when he died, and we all grieved for him.



This country-man has lived too long in cities.
His feet were dumb and blind
until the watchful child
cried an agitated warning.

He froze on the brink of murder.
Fragile life scurried underfoot.
City-man, tread gently on this earth.
Watch where you walk.

For, even in the urban garden,
you may crunch down
an ignorant foot
on a songbird with a broken wing,

or a soft-spined hedgehog wandering
far from the camouflaged nest.
Edge your booted foot along with care,
worthy of the trust bestowed.

You are curator,
temporarily employed
to tend a magic garden,
a museum of live art.



The sow lumbered in the hedge
her sharp spines scratching undergrowth.
In herself she must have felt
fulfilment - she had produced
a litter of five nuzzlers.
Her nightly foraging
took her through the graveyard,
where she found tasty slugs
and other delicacies. At dawn
she returned to the nest
for a well earned sleep.
The little ones sucked
and grew. Their spines were soft
and their shy rambling from the nest
comical. I feared their fearlessness,
for I knew that danger lurked.

At four weeks, half weaned,
they made bird-sounds
and the future looked bright
until the blowflies struck.
One by one, the sucklings died,
to feed the greedy maggots.
The nest is empty now.
The sow can't figure out
how creatures smaller than a fly
could devour her litter.

But then, she does not know
the brutality of nature
and the inflexible law
of the survival of the fittest,
the hunger of the selfish gene.
And insect genes are strong.

Some day, I'll write a canticle to maggots,
whose beauty and strength
appear in a different light
filtered through bluebottle eyes.




Bulls together, lying in a group, contented, warm,
we ruminated leeward of a friendly ditch,
banked with soil and stones and hawthorn trees.
The wind and sleet blew impotent high over our ditch
to lash the field beyond. The flies stayed home.
The rhythmic burping and the meditative chew,
the scent of rumen juice was incense to our herd.
The cars ground up the lane. Doors banged.
Voices quipped and swore.
The grate of steel on stone - gates opening -
then men in rubber boots and yellow waterproofs came tramping.

A small relief, no sticks or dogs...
We resigned ourselves to the old routine,
moved reluctantly, a straggling line,
towards the cattle-pens of steel,
the trapping gates and fight-destroying crush.
They drove us, unresisting, to the catching bail.

We went, defeated, under threat
of the electric goad, were nose-tonged,
bawling, shivering, debased and shamed
to be handled so by men one sixth our size.
But men are clever bastards and can kill
more easily than we. They bled
our veins in plastic tubes, shot xylocaine into our hides,
dug shiny corers in our deadened sides,
sucked specimens of liver into glass containers
stored in a two-skinned box.

Schoolboys in adventure camp,
they gloried in their hunting knives and toys:
scalpels, needles, alcohol, flasks and sterile wipes,
syringes, anaesthetics, blue powder for our wounds.
Those bloody scientists examined us from head to tail,
even inspected under our tails, handled our balls...
Prodded, vampired, weighed, we waited patiently
while they wrote it all down:
tag, sample, weight, date et cetera.
They even pinched our grass
and poked around in our manure -
men from God knows where, doing God knows what!
And what a time they must have had
filling out expenses forms.

Why can't science be confined as top priority
to cabbages, carnations, crustaceans, bacterial protein
or the metaphysical?
They should leave us bulls alone
to graze and grow and hump our days away in peace
and clover swards. Ah well! It's over now
for another six weeks at least.



We slaughtered fifty bulls last spring at Purcell's down near Clane.
The Muslim rite was used that time - no stunning for the slain.
Those massive beasts were beautiful but some of them were mean
and one of them, a Limousin, the wildest bull we'd seen.

In farm and shop, in bed and pub, his story will be told.
Aye! some of us may envy him when we grow limp and old.
In life he stood defiant, danger sparking in his eye
and when his time had come at last, he showed us how to die.

The spring before, we purchased them as yearlings with full bags.
We dosed them and we punched their ears with coloured plastic tags.
Strange how memories remain long after the deed is done -
the Limo's tag, remembered still, was Orange Twenty-One.

When April growth began to come, the bulls were put to grass,
with O-Two-One among them, horny, dissident and crass.
He walked through fences, jumped the drains, roamed anywhere he would
and buggered all his comrades to their hocks in peaty mud.

All summer long he taunted us when others took their shots -
he'd skip across the cattle-crush and gallop 'round the plots.
You'd think him trained for point-to-points, impatient for the start
like thoroughbreds at Punchestown or hounds at Shelbourne Park.

When we got them to the killing-pen, his comrades ambled round
to be stuck without a murmur and then dumped onto the ground.
But Limo would have none of that. Despite hydraulic rams
and steel doors hissing from behind against his mighty hams

and steel walls closing in on him to drive him toward the light
through the false escape before him to the sticker's bloody knife.
No! Bellowing with anger, Limo twisted in a knot,
his nose close to his testicles, his tail up in the air.

Six times they tried to gentle him by pulling back the rams
to give him space to find his feet before they tried again...
Six times they failed and Limo screamed his anger without fear:
"You want to get me with that blade? You'll have to come in here".

By now the word had spread around and admiration grew,
as Foreman ordered Shackle-man to use the calming brew.
The killing-pen was sprayed and sprayed with anaesthetic mist
and soon old Limo's weary head began to nod and list.

On this, at least, he scored a point that made the butchers cheer:
instead of feeding Libyan troops, he'd put them all to sleep.
Sly-shackled by the left hock through a slit beneath the door,
high-hoisted to the ceiling, his great head touched the floor.

The sticker's blade just flickered on the singing honing stone
before it sliced in smoothly, cutting right down to the bone.
With bull's blood, life blood, gushing out, brave Limo woke again.
He tried to roar. This time he failed, his roars mere gurgling gasps.

Still struggling fiercely to the end, a battling reprobate,
strong pizzle at attention though just to urinate,
he called us every name in hell:
haemorrhagic misbegottens, from person or persons unknown;

of low intelligence and partial to maternal fornication;
skin-parasite-infected self-abusers, or worse.
Each man present heard his own curse.
The mighty body gave one final twitch. Then... silence.

"Right lads... Lunchtime..."
The crowd dispersed, wordless, subdued, respectful.
We're all for slaughter anyway but Bravo O-Two-One!



Clarke resented his mother
willing the home of his youth
to the coffers of the Irish agents
of the bankrupt Vatican Bank.

But I heard of a man
who had more cause for anger -
his dying mother willed the house
to be sold for an Old-Folks' Home
but willed that her seven cats
be allowed to live in peace
before the auction.

In her will, she stipulated
that her cats be fed and watered
and not be interfered with.
The senile lady had forgotten
that what's in cat
can sire kittens
by the newtime.

The local vets were glum
but her attorneys insisted
that the letter of the mating claw
be followed. Now the neighbourhood
is full of catshit, fur and miaow
and the Old Folks' Home is waiting
for the promised auction.

The ousted son has sworn to fight
for the right to bloody sports,
starting with the coursing
of cats disguised as hares.


(Publ. Salmon, Galway, Jan 1988)

Grandpa, lying in his teeth,
seeded my imagination,
swearing as he crossed himself
that Sergeant Mullins had
a secret hidden in an empty cell
in the village barracks -
a white rabbit with red eyes.

This had to be a magic beast
a cousin of the unicorn, for even I
knew that rabbits were grey or brown
or black, not white.

Grandma had a rattan stool
and a hat with pheasant tails.
I crawled between the wooden legs
the stool seat to my chest
donned the feathered hat,
mounted my steed, a kitchen brush
and rode into the night.

To a child of four, from lighted towns,
a mile of country road at dusk
meant headless horsemen, leering ghosts
and dangers crouched behind the traitor ditch
but that proud mile, ridden to my rattan tattoo
and my coward's whistle
were affirmation of identity.

The rattle of the ancient Ford,
the cross-eyed lights, the shout
of "Get in here, me bucko!" aborted my adventure.
Grandma stayed his angry hand,
repeating fiercely that
the boy believed the lie.
She cooked a boxty supper.

Grandpa and the Sergeant drove
the potholed miles to Sligo town,
bargained in the pet-shop
like tanglers at a fair,
brought a rabbit home -
the first New Zealand White to see Dromore.

And mine were not the only eyes to feast
on the impossible.
Grandpa presided while Grandma
poured endless cups of tea
as neighbours came and went in wake-house reverence,
nodding and whispering in the country way
that nature was amazing.



Bumblebee, pathetic on my window-sill
on a rainy day in late July,
your black and amber jersey is no match
for this chilling, wintry cold.
Your life is ending now.
No more the busy buzz,
the sun-dance in the hive,
the ardent hunting for the heather juice.
Instead a slow, cold death
with no kin near to wish the last farewell.

I turn you gently on your back.
You can not right your awkward bulk but move
your legs so slowly and with pain.
Do bees become arthritic in old age?
Poor creature! Pardon me
as I end your agony.

I moved to guillotine his head. He knew.
The energy returned as if God intervened.
The bee buzzed angrily,
arching his abdomen to shield his neck.
Struggling fiercely,
the reprieved skated up the glass.
I pushed the sash and helped him on his way.
Fare well my bee! My bumblebee, remember me,
a stumbling bumbler too,
when I lie helpless on my back,
unable to right my bulk.
Save my neck with your translucent wing.
Remind my kin to pause awhile
before they put me out of misery.


On the magic line between the calm and flow,
You gently broke the surface, head and tail,
a beauty, nineteen pounds at least and freshly run,
the sea-lice tacked like seaweed to Your sides.

My mind's eye saw You flick that mighty tail
to dive behind Your rock eight feet below.
That soul-calm evening on the first of May,
some thirty miles above Killala bay,
the timeless miracle arrived like cyclic winds
to ease the strain that living puts on minds.
O Silver King, why cross the sea
from Newfoundland to fall to me?

I know how You have fought
to dodge the seals, the nets of monofilament.
You passed the shallow bay when tide was full
and ran the deadly channel through the town.
From every bridge and vantage point
the townies cast their lures;
poachers slung their deadly strokehauls;
bailiffs' looked the other way.

You had to run the Ridge Pool, whipped into a froth
by middle-class executives, at Company expense,
to meet the fishtraps built across the weir.
A narrow gap was free for You
to shimmy through. With three
turbo-sparkling jumps
You cleared the rapids and the falls
to reach the deeper pools above.

You travelled through the night
past Foxford and Pontoon,
through the island-seeded waters of Lough Conn,
to the black mouth of the Deel.
And so You reached my bend.
O Silver King, why cross the sea
from Newfoundland to fall to to me?

Three years ago, a smolt,
You swam past yon grey Castle
on Your compass to the sea.
Its ravens wished you well.
Now, I hear them croak in shrouded black:
You'll pass that way no more.

I talked to him. I sang his feats.
I dared him grab the bait. Short wait!
The savage lunge, the vicious strike
and he, despairing of his plight,
jet-streaked up-river in his mortal fight.
O Silver King, why cross the sea
from Newfoundland to fall to to me?

He did not answer but I knew he cursed
the Fates who turned their backs on him
as to the net he jaded came.
I praised his courage as I clubbed his head.
Will he praise mine, when I must join the dead?