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Tuesday, February 05, 2019


by Laura Rodley

Officials in Hong Kong said on Friday that they had intercepted a shipment of nine tons of scales from pangolins, the largest seizure the city has ever made of products from one of the most frequently trafficked mammals in the world. A thousand elephant tusks were in the same shipment, officials said. The scales and tusks were seized on Jan. 16, said the customs authorities, who displayed the contraband for reporters. They were found hidden under slabs of frozen meat on a cargo ship that had stopped in Hong Kong on its way to Vietnam from Nigeria, said officials, who estimated the shipment’s value at nearly $8 million. —The New York Times, February 1, 2019

Minding their own business
pangolins slurp up termites
drawing squirming bugs into their stomach
with their tongues that begin in their stomach,
not the back of their mouths.

Minding their own business,
they do not smell the poachers or the poachers’ dogs,
poachers that cover their boots with pangolin musk
and the murky water they trudge through
to reach the pangolins emerged from their burrows at night.

Not even completely dead, poachers scrape away
pangolin scales, layered like pine cone fingernails on their backs
with sharp triangle blades that could but do not
cut the poachers’ hands, as they wear thick gloves,
poachers who consume the pulverized scales themselves

to combat pain of arthritis, asthma or rheumatism
that they have gained carrying baskets of scales out of the woods.
They have no awe of the stretched out beauty
of the pangolin’s body, peacock length with no feathers,
no awe of the babies that ride on their tails,

no fear of the way pangolins fight back—by rolling into a ball
around their young who just finished drinking their milk, easy to capture,
dismantle their scales, maybe carry some back alive to raise more.
They only think of their business, harvesting
the bounty, nine tons of scales seized mid January

in a Hong Kong port, amassed from nearly 14,000
rolled up balls expired, gasping, left behind,
so the razor edge of their scales can strengthen
someone’s bones, ease their pain. What about their conscience,
Does the eight million price tag cancel that?

Laura Rodley was a Pushcart Prize winner for her New Verse News poem "Resurrection." Finishing Line Press nominated her books Your Left Front Wheel Is Coming Loose and Rappelling Blue Light for the Mass Book Award. Former co-curator of the Collected Poets Series, Rodley teaches the As You Write It memoir class and has edited and published As You Write It, A Franklin County Anthology volumes I-VI. Latest books: Turn Left at Normal by Big Table Publishing and Counter Point by Prolific Press