In a glass cabinet amongst the packed and stacked exhibits in the extraordinary Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy on University Street in Bloomsbury, there is a jar of moles. Fascinated, I sat at a table opposite the exhibit and wrote them this poem.
A JAR OF MOLES
Amongst the racks of skeletons,
the glass-cased arthropods,
the frozen flights of butterflies,
the stalking bear, a jar of moles.
Like a pickled audience, they float,
hands in mid-applause, their mute
approval a thing of palms and fingers,
viscous suspension hiding faces,
lumping bodies into a mass of
saturated velvet. The brown bear
straddles a staircase, permanently
spooked. A rhino, all bleached
scaffolding behind a lowering skull,
shambles permanently west. Even
the pinioned butterflies have dignity,
a sort of poise, stabbed in their abundance
against an artificial sky. The moles
just hang in alcohol, their stack of hands
not pressing air or palm to palm,
but reaching out like engineers
towards the blind remembered soil.