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The Saturday poem: Nightlife

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by Jo Shapcott

Nightlife

Darkling, I listen. I can't hear
the ultrasonic tones and pitches,
but I can catch screams and whistles
crick-cracks, ticks and chitters
the all-night calls of foraging mothers
to their babies, parked on a high branch;
the clear syllables of passion, clicking
at a frequency to stir touch, huddle
and groom. If I had the nose for it,
I would understand the meaning of musk,
those rhythmic scent marks rubbed along
the branch, the gorgeous piss-gold for
self-drenching, for spraying territory,
for shouting to the forest I am I.

• This poem was commissioned for a new series of Writers Talks on Endangered Animals in ZSL London Zoo. The next talks will be Helen Dunmore on Sumatran tigers (Tuesday) and Glyn Maxwell on the midwife toad (20 June). See Jo Shapcott talk about the slender loris on our website


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