Six EARTH WORDS poems for International Times for Earth Day 2024


The Silver Bugle by Ken Beevers

We scan the skies
for our uncommon summer visitors.
Always last to arrive,
they keep us waiting
in fear of hearing nothing.

Listening, you pick him out,
“wood warbler on the right,“ you shout,
and reverently lead me,
to the soft, repeated, trilling whistle,
like a silver bugle.

But playing the last post,
if we cannot change their plight.

You well up when you hear,
the melancholy tearful voice,
the rapid shivering,
wing quivering call,
like a spinning coin on a stone slab,
which abruptly stops.

Will it be,
heads, thin pointed bill,
beautiful dark brown eyes,
yellow eye stripe,
feathers in olive grey and lime and soda.
Or tails, – never seen, or heard again.

The charismatic double voice
is a bouncing ball,
getting closer and closer to the ground,
sad opening notes, he has flown
thousands of miles to perform.

Finally we see him,
our arboreal leaf searcher,
flitting about in the verdant canopy,
tumbling from branch to branch,
bright zesty yellow green,
in harmony with the tender shades,
of the opening leaves,
and pale branches,
of oak and beech.

Our woodland habitat is going,
and their wintering trees in the west African rainforest,
are being felled.

The W in their name will be inverted,
and warbler will become marble.

A cold memorial,
to a bird who sang
a joyful oakwood song.

Spin the coin.

Heads or tails?
It’s up to us.





The Black Cross by Ken Beevers

You rode wave after wave
of sickness and nausea
until your pulse was weak
and you were as pale as the sheets.

I was worried you would die
but you were just about
clinging on.

You lay in a strange bed,
in a room with no colour.
The sickly hotel painting
was removed and replaced
with a coat hanger to support
the intravenous drip
slowly introducing fluid
to save your life.

The tube was like
the urethane surfboard leash
attached to your hand only days ago,
when the sun came out after prolonged rain,
and town and campsite emptied joyfully
onto the sands and into the sea,
like a packet of seeds.

You were so happy surfing
the wide, white tipped rollers
under a thistle blue sky.

Then, because of a secret
sewage leakage, you
ingested a parasite
and your life changed
like quicksilver, due
to a third world disease
found in water.

How could this happen
in the 21st century,
in England,
in a world surfing reserve
of flagged blue beaches?

I won’t say where this was.
But if it was a rhyming poem,
it would be a North Devon beach to avoid,
though it could be any of 37 in Devon
or 83 in the British Isles,
where sewage leaks
into the sea
after heavy rain.

Back home,
after samples were taken,
the bug was identified as Giardisis:
a notifiable, public disease.

I was so proud of our water authority.

I filled in the form, afraid
of being found out and shamed
and sent it to the inevitable black hole
we never heard from again.

Graphs and diagrams were made
by the Office of National statistics.

We know record levels of sewage
are being dumped in the sea
and hospital admissions
for waterborne diseases
are up 60% (Guardian 30 March 2024).

It’s been counted,
so that’s alright then.

At home I bought
a tin of matt black
and painted
an immaculate
black cross
on our front door
to warn people
to stay away because
there was a notifiable, 
public disease in our house.  

I was so proud of our country.

Will every door have a black cross one day?
Will it replace the cross on the Devon flag,
and the Cornish Saltire?  

The tide of public protest should make it stop,
but it won’t unless we all object.


Support Surfers Against Sewage!




Rite Of Passage (How To Eat Your Ortolan1) by Kate Meyer Currey


Starched linen skies 
suffocate branched

Fallen blossom of
wing feather boughs

Felled by musket 
shots spring notes 

By gluttony nested 
on cold porcelain 

In weltered blood 
and marrow fat as

Cutlery cracks your 
fragile twigs so it’s 

Baby bunting you’re 
a seasonal delicacy 

All you pretty larks 
there’s a traditional

For your destruction
French cuisine has

You over as dainty 
dishes set before 

Ogres caging you 
like Strasbourg

Craws stuffed with
millet you’re rich 

Drowned in cognac 
no way to sing for 

Last supper little 
bird now you’re a 

For internet TV
culture vultures 

On your demise
starring in a new 

Of snuff movies
for gourmands

Your songs like
vapour a species 

Dying notes linger
on spring’s silent 



1 ‘Ortolan’ is a cruel dish of little Ortolan bunting songbirds roasted and eaten whole. The poor birds are trapped in France as they fly South for the winter, are force-fed millet for 21 days (during which they triple in size, nearly bursting out of their bodies,) before they are drowned in Armagnac brandy.  

Those who partake of this abominable ritual eat the birds with their heads covered by a towel, to trap the ‘aromas’ – and historically to hide their disgraceful act and shame from God.  

French Ortolan populations are dangerously low now. In 2007 the French government finally announced its intent to enforce the long-ignored laws protecting these vulnerable birds.




Prayer for the herring gulls by Heidi Stephenson


Aves, Aves, Aves Laridae!1
Aves, Aves, Aves Laridae!

Named after your favourite food
and now dying of starvation, dying out2
because we have emptied the seas,
hoovered up the herrings,
murdered the migrating mackerel,
killed off the shimmering shoals:
(trawling, drifting, trapping, netting)
for our tins, pans and field fertilizers.

And we scream, we scream
at you, our noisy neighbours,
with your loud, laughing calls,
your fledglings’ incessant peep-peeping,
(that warmed us once with mother love,
with marvellous, maritime memories,)
and curse the coastal “vermin”
for snatching at an ice-cream,
for pinching a bit of deluxe
crab and lobster sandwich,
for being forced to swallow
a boiling chip, a searing,
salt-saturated mouth-burner,
lacking all nutrition and essentials
for a desperate, daring bird –
but hungrily scavenged,
dangerously3 nose-dived for,
from among the lapful of fried fish
of the well-fed, bursting tourist.

Aves, Aves, Aves Laridae! 1
Aves, Aves, Aves Laridae!

The sea’s silver soul sailor,
sky-sweeping, wheeling siren,
keen-eyed, pale-eyed sentinel,
ancient wave wanderer…
forced to scrape and beg
for left-overs
from the tight-lipped grasping.

Forced to empty bins
and peck at paper, plastic, polystyrene.


1 Aves is the Latin word for bird. Laridae is the family name for the seabirds which include gulls, skimmers, terns, noddies and kittiwakes. This is a deliberate echoing of the Ave Maria (Hail Mary) prayer and Catholic hymn: Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!

2 Since 2009, herring gulls in the UK have been on the RSPB’s Red List of birds of conservation concern. The species is declining rapidly across the country (50% over the past 25 years,) contrary to public perception, despite an increase in urban areas. They are now protected by law. 

3 In St Ives a man kicked a seagull to death…for stealing a chip. Tragically, this was not an isolated incident. Human violence against hungry gulls is an increasing problem.




BOUTIQUE BRIXHAM by Amanda Cuthbert


A cacophony of gulls
shriek a water warning 
to baffled businesses

Waves rev up a rebellion  
Barriers bristle indignantly
but lose the battle

Artisan café lattes float free from tables  
as local cheeses learn to navigate
the deluge

Sewers shout as their outflow is reversed
and Primrose Properties
turns brown in dismay

The Curious Kitchen has only one question
for The Curious Bakery
What did we do?

The Bottle Shop loses not only its bottle,
but the whole lot, to sunlit carpools
of half drowned metal

The Lucky Boat longs for a lifeboat
The RNLI shop prays for a rescue
Fish float into The High Tide Fisheries

Super Sodden Stuff replaces Lifestyle Design 
Ignorant images drown at
Photography of the Discerning Dog     

Squabbling deckchairs clatter against the harbour wall,
their erstwhile occupants
no longer there to hold them back

Only the gulls remain, silent at last,
picking over human remains
near the desolate beach.                






We are the lambs with the black spot
separated from the flock,
our pretty play forgotten.
We stand,
listening for the cheerful calls,
of our names.
Proudly hand reared,
small in number,
kindly castrated with rubber ring—
to deaden the pain,
to kill the nerve endings,
to lessen the cortisol flooding our tiny bodies,
when only hours old,
on stumbling fragile legs.

But there is no friendly call or caress, today,
Red and Cam have no fragrant herbal treat for us;
they are subdued and don’t look us in the eye.
Waiting for what on this blue-sky day of scudding clouds?

A car pulls up,
a woman steps out into the dirt.
I sneeze at the dust
that dances in the breeze,
 that brings our mothers’ calls from distant field.
She brings her camera.
We are photogenic,
as we leap and bleat.
But these are muted greetings,
Sheepish, even …




‘I nearly didn’t come,’ she said.

I left the kids in bed,
still sleeping in that soft warmth of body heat.
The coffee was bitter
 in my food-writer’s kitchen of gleaming steel pans and sharpened blades.
I couldn’t face breakfast,
so quietly closed the door on domesticity.

My friends have a farm and I eat meat,
I’ve written disparaging comments of supermarket meat wrapped in plastic on polystyrene trays,
their laughable sprigs of rosemary,
mock appeal to authenticity, and
our deadened connection with the primal process.

For my readers’ benefit I would bear witness
to small-scale slaughter.
No stress,
no industrial suffering,
no terrifying journey crammed into a transporter,
no scent of terror at the abattoir.
Three lambs—
three lambs only for the farmer’s personal use.
Killed with care;
their one bad day.

So why do I feel so uneasy?




For fuck’s sake what are we waiting for?
She’s here,
let’s go.
A bullet in the head, one … two …
Catch Curly would you?
When I pulled him out of his mother I knew he was a lively one,
Got him … three.

A single shot to the head with a rifle—
respectful, like.
Cam bends to cut the throats,
he does it quick.
Let’s get ‘em to the shed.
‘Jen, the wheelbarrow?
Okay, I’ll get it myself.’

Camera dangling at her side,
She doesn’t look so clever now.
What did she expect?




The legs are tangled,
Necks slack,
As we bump along to the shed

I know they think I’m a wimp,
A townie wimp,
I’ll show them or I’ll never hear the end of it.

I’m better in my place,
behind the lens, where
professionalism conquers the numbness of death.
The readers don’t need gratuitous violence …
So, I missed the shot!
The moment—
the passing from life to death.

Hang on, a good shot here,
hanging by the back legs.
‘Hold it Cam—

‘Move the blade to the right—

He’s careful not to piece the flesh,
pulling the skin off the front legs—
like the kid’s passive resistance when they get undressed.

A sharp crack of the neck
 as the head is removed,
the plop of the guts,
again, and
Until the three are reunited in the cool room of the local cafe,
to hang for a couple of weeks,
before being driven back to the farm,
for butchering.




I was invited to dinner, on the farm, three weeks’ later,
We had slow cooked lamb with silverbeet and potatoes.
The meat was pale but rich.
One lamb provides up to twenty meals.
We all enjoyed the food,
But agreed,
That given all the work and time involved to produce meat like this,
We’d eat less,
If this was the only way to get it.

I’d think more about where my next meal’s coming from,
But I won’t stop eating meat.
My headline:
Provenance Matters to Me More Than Ever.




So that’s it then,
it’s all over and it’s okay?
Jen’ll write another story about happy free-range chickens, and
which wine stands up to paprika.
Our throats are cut,
so you can’t hear our voices.

Can’t or won’t?

Our atoms come from star dust,
like you,
Our hearts beat and lungs exchange air,
like you,
Our brains wonder and feel,
like you

We are Curly, Fleece, and Tom,
The lambs of the black spot,
whose juices flow like blood and excuses
from your fork to red mouth.
Our grease spurts from the pan
and moistens your lips,
Our sinews tear for your pleasure.

Each taste is death,
A life lost.
Pain for your ignorant gain.
The contract of universal love—


Note: This is a narrative found poem using an article from the Guardian describing a food writer witnessing the on-farm slaughter of three lambs in Australia. Characters are: the three lambs, the two farmhands Red and Cam, and Jen, the food writer.


Food for Earth Day thought:



EARTH WORDS was facilitated and produced by Heidi Stephenson at Brixham Library in Devon, and supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, with support in kind from Libraries Unlimited. This is a small sample of the 60 poems which resulted from the project.








By Heidi Stephenson

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One Response to Six EARTH WORDS poems for International Times for Earth Day 2024

    1. What a powerful way to stop us all from sleepwalking. Bravo!

      Comment by Dex Finch on 20 April, 2024 at 3:54 pm

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