© British Museum

Three Poems

Swimming Reindeer




After Swimming Reindeer: Sculpture carved from mammoth tusk, found in Montastruc, France and dated 11,000 BC. British Museum, London.


Slim, compact, slightly curved, carved

from the tapering end of a mammoth’s tusk –

a female reindeer decorated with incised lines,

the male with an imposing set of antlers

folded along the length of his back.


Chins up, antlers tipped back, they swim

legs stretched, bodies streamlined, bones breathing

unable to sleep for being alive –

their pristine presence a shaft of light.


Not created for any religious ceremony,

not a love charm, this sculpture

with no known functional purpose

conjures an image of a herd of reindeer,

roaming across colourless, treeless plains

in an Ice Age where time does not stand still,

sprints like a hunter intent on surviving

on an unforgiving planet.


The skill of the toolmaker turned artist –

was it one or many? –

evokes a vision of grace, of faces rapt in wonder,

fingers chiselling, bone folded on bone, in prayer,

a desire to be at home in the universe –

a reaching out when nature rewired the brain

and the world lit up like aurora borealis.


Imagine: New and Selected Poems is published by HarperCollinsPublishers India (2017).

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