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A dugong (Dugong dugon) in the Egyptian Red Sea. Following a trip to the surface to breathe, which happens every four or five minutes, this dugong was just about to land back on its sea grass feeding ground. 

20th century
Dugong, poor cow

 

She surfaces every four minutes to breathe
The sea cow who has few natural predators
Through a film of oil sheen

Shovelling up sea grass – lips tactile and whiskery
She feeds alone, unaware of her persecutors
She surfaces every three minutes to breathe

She’s nomadic in the shallows of the Arabian Sea
For reassurance her calf touches her with its flipper
Through a film of oil sheen

A speed boat strike slits her belly
Sharp blades slice her skin and blubber
And she surfaces every two minutes to breathe

Lumbering and gentle, she cannot see
She forages using smell and her whisker sensors
Through a film of oil sheen

She’s listed endangered, and near to death
As her sea grass meadows silt over
She’s surfacing every minute now, to breathe
Through a film of oil sheen.

 

© Marion Elmes
Picture 10716990, photograph by Terry Dormer

Always a watercolourist, designer and teacher, Marion is a relative newcomer to poetry. Her poems have been published in an anthology, Midnight Skies: Exmoor in Verse (2013), and online with Bardbrain. For five years in the 1970s she lived, worked and snorkelled in the Arabian Gulf; she saw only one dugong then, which had been caught by local fishermen, tethered to a Doha harbour wall and subsequently set free, and realised how vulnerable these strange mammals are.