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Poetry Pleases: Opportunities In Panama

Ivor Murrell's vivid poem suggests that the behaviour of birds and ants can remind us of our own predatory instincts.

The livid red-brown flow courses right to left
across the muddy trail in Soberania rainforest.
A stream of identical genetic phenotypes,
following pheromones, as if newly blind.
Workers unburdened of their brief life’s work,
six abreast with thousands following behind,
abandoning old structures on chemical orders.

Leaf Cutter Ants swarm through the foliage
each flank guarded by larger sister soldiers
attacking all that impedes the silent rampage.
This inexplicable surge stirs our expectation,
the opportunity to be spectators of predation.
Hungry lenses rake the dim and dripping foliage
alert for any lurking opportunist’s strikes.
Entrepreneurial Ant Birds initiate the plunder:
Bi-coloured, Barred and Slaty Antshrikes.
Dot -Winged Antwrens are less easy to spot
and the furtive Black-Crowned Antpitta
skulks from the Ant-Tanager’s bitter scalding..

Ocellated Antbirds have varied their attack plan,
in blue masks they surf the swarm’s front,
to select and snatch their larger prey insects
which scuttle to evade the advancing mass.
We appreciate the birds’ predatory success.
Like bankers in the City, isolated from the turmoil,
we view each action with complacent detachment,
recording with interest each new encroachment
as avian speculators invest avidly in survival.


Ivor Murrell, November 2009.

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