The Pengguling Egg

2020

Words & linoleum print

1/1

The Pengguling Egg is an invented poetic origin myth created for the GM Covid Commissions Archive. While this is an invented tale, its themes, locations, characters and events are all inspired by experiences shared online by people during the covid-19 pandemic. I abstracted these experiences into fantastical narrative elements alongside old world mythologies to shape the story, which I then illustrated in the style of the Azoth (alchemical transformation) prints from the 1600s.

You can download The Pengguling Egg poetry booklet here or read on.

The Pengguling Egg

I

 

At deepest dusk, and I mid-sleep,

three shadows creep cross umber earth

Nocturnal beasts together meet

at centre of the forest deep

to herald in primeval birth.

 

The first, a gem-faced musky thing,

sups nectar from a flower’s crown

The second, nose like leaf and winged,

swoops low towards a scaly friend—

the third—and plucks grubs from the ground.

 

They whisper news from overseas—

a faceless hunter on the prowl

And speak of the elysian egg,

which to the world a powder keg,

bestowed to them from unknown fowl.

 

What phantoms face this band of three,

the civet, bat and pangolin?

Unbind them from their precious sleep

to twine their fates with you and me

and this new world we enter in.

II

 

When all at once their quiet gloom

by some great axe is cleft in twain

The great oak of their meeting room,

which once was as a mother’s womb,

becomes a bloody battlefield.

 

Asleep were we as chaos hit,

though toddy cat was here before

Has past not made us wise to it?

No great plans carried, lain or writ

to ferry us to safer shores.

 

Said Civet: “Summon all your might

that in this task you might prevail

For I am made of fur too light

And Bat cannot take eggs in flight

But Manis, you have shield of scale.”

 

With one last look upon her ‘stead

and sweet farewell, for now, to friends,

our Manis left the warmth of bed

for unknown worlds that lay ahead,

no wit of where gnarled paths might end.

III

 

Oh how the first world shook and raved

like lungs made breathless from thick smoke

What ghastly fears the doctors braved

to tend their wards whose souls escaped

the hunter and his deadly yoke.

 

The second world was made of ice,

the ground all flesh, the wood all bones

And empty houses there sufficed

the slain, a ghostly paradise

where sentinels protect the grounds.

 

“What have we done?” dear Manis dredged

her heart and howled with saddest shame

Remembering the egg at breast,

she saw a bird at bone wood edge—

a phoenix rose from ash and flames.

 

At her approach, the bird now changed 

and spoke a long-drawn wheezing sigh

The hoodwink bird had phoenix feigned!

Said, “I was stitched by nurse-like things,

but that egg’s mother is not I.”

IV

 

Now at the edge of those first worlds,

agin the odds had they survived

So Manis turned her thoughts towards

the path, and moved with egg forwards

where hoodwink pointed fairer climes.

 

And there from ebbing smoke and fog,

espied a village green emerge

From whence there raved a demagogue

And eels brewed wine and wheaty grog

and glistened from their grassy verge.

 

Beyond the rabble of the square

were workshops, house and garden green

A mother lulled her baby there

And dads baked pies from locks of hair

And meditating monk was seen.

 

Then feathers weft of blue and grey

swooped down from off a craggy ledge

And Kookaburra laughed to say,

“Though I am here to wake the day

I’m not the cook to break your egg.”

V

 

The bird left Manis to her track,

ne’er one for valedictories

As all about the earth pushed back,

sent springlings up from driest cracks

pursuant of new histories.

 

For while man slept, the earth had grown

and birds had swarmed the waning skies

Their chorus, wild, descended down

like rain upon a weathered crown—

“Rebirth!” in stead of earth’s demise.

 

So lay she down upon the grass

to soak up song from balconies

of twig, of reed, of sassafras

And saw the world through looking glass

to Ibis, with his colonies.

 

Now to her palm flew couriers—

a raven, mudlark, tern and dove

And perched these erstwhile messengers

upon tellurian shoulders

to murmur where she next must rove.

VI

 

To wetlands, then, was Manis borne,

where edge of land meets edge of sea

That place of man’s original dawn,

the sea clay whence all life was born,

and all gods now take up their seat.

 

Before her rose a mighty oak,

a table laid with wine and bread

And at its head the first god spoke,

for with it her presence invoked

Him motherless with Ibis head.

 

“This egg is mine,” great Thoth proclaimed,

“and yours, and theirs and pengguling’s.

The hunter also lays his claim,

for he is but the winds of change

from which sprig pain and all great things.”

 

And as he spoke, new worlds were writ—

the sun, the moon, the sacred texts—

for egg had broke and from within,

a tiny hatchling terrapin

upon whose shell our world now rests.

– End –

All work © 2020 Michelle Collier

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