Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Virginia McKenna's Poems

Ginny, rescued Moon bear © Animals Asia

“In early November I accompanied my close friend Jill Robinson, Founder of Animals Asia Foundation, on a journey to Vietnam. I am the UK patron of AAF and had already stayed in their rescue centre in China. We were to visit their Tam Dao Moon Bear Rescue Centre , two hours drive from Hanoi, and also some bear ‘farms’ where bears are incarcerated in metal cages and milked for their bile.

The contrast between the two places could not have been more stark.

At the Centre rescued bears wandered about in their large, grassy enclosures, dipped in their pools, played, rested, searched for ‘treats’ or ambled inside to lie in their beds. They had choice. They were content. They were loved.

In the village of Phung Thoung there was a very different story. This is what I have written about in ‘The Darkest Day’.”

Virginia McKenna
Founder & Trustee
Born Free Foundation

Listen to an mp3 of Virginia reading The Darkest Day here

The Darkest Day

I made this journey aware
Of what I would find. Would see.
I thought I was prepared.
But nothing can. No film. No words.
Nor these few lines of mine
Can wrench your heart and haunt your mind
As seeing it yourself. Feeling it yourself.

No words can really tell you.
Should I say torment?
Cruelty? Despair? Hell on earth?
Shall I say prison? Torture?
Nightmare? Madhouse?
Nothing screams out the obscenity
Of those barbaric traps..
Yes. Traps of bars- above,
Beside,beneath, no floor
On which to rest those
Rotting, yellowed feet..
The feet of bears who carry
Still the precious moons emblazoned
On their night-dark chests.

That moon is all they have.
There is no sun to lighten
That grim shed, no trees
To soothe the eye, no wind
To stir their fur, no hope
Of kinder days. And why?
It is the bile. Of course, it is the bile.
Extracted, traded, packaged
And sold in pretty phials
For "mankind's" benefit. No kindness here.

Some bears are mad.I know
The signs too well. They sway and rock
And twist. Seeking oblivion.
Even for a minute. Even for a moment.

And then, oh God, this bear I saw.
A huge great glorious beast
Stretched out across the bars.
His back legs up against the side,
His two front legs reached high,
As if to heaven, stretched high and still
Until, suddenly, a paw dropped down
And grabbed his slavering tongue,
And pulled and pulled it out
And out again until I thought
It surely would snap free.
But no, the paw jerked up
Once more - and on and on again.


These dark satanic sheds
Are known as farms. Death Row
I say. Outside the owners offer tea.
I want to put them in a cage
And let them cry. In vain

Not all these innocent creatures
Will find sanctuary. There are thousands.
Only a few will walk on grass,
Climb trees, feel sun and wind. Be loved.

And, as I stood, aghast, the eye
Of one sweet bear looked into mine.
Unflinching. Enduring. Stoic.
Yes, that is the word I seek.
I heard it many times. The stoicism
Of these great animals. And, miraculously,
The rescued ones appear to feel
No malice, bear no grudge, as if
They sense the kindness shown
The affection given.

In all the years I have watched
Imprisoned animals - some neglected,
Some abused, some stir-crazy,
All helpless - this November day
Has been the darkest of them all.
And what a lesson have I learned.
How dare I now complain of cold,
Or tiredness, or waiting for a train?
On behalf of all who cause
This purgatory, I hang my head in shame
And beg the bears' forgiveness in my heart.


Inside the palm, beneath the searching fingers
The skin is pink and wrinkled.
Just like mine.

Eyes behind the mesh behind the glass
Look into my eyes.
Same thoughts.  I know.

Sad, mad monkey
In that twilight box.
Reflected in the glass,
Dim outline in that silent, sordid world
I see myself, and you beyond.
Trapped.  Forever.
In my memory.

What is your question?
Mine is the same.


The Field

What colour is the field?
Corn gold, snow white, grass green, earth brown?
No matter.
It is the womb, the grave,
The larder of both wild and human beasts.
It is your quiet space
From which your thoughts can seek their path
To heaven.

Sit silent in the field.
Open your mind and heart.
Wait for the sign.
The butterfly that lights upon your hand.
The leaf that falls from one far-distant tree.
The poignant music from the blackbird’s throat.
Be still.
He will be there.

Leopard at Lai Chi Kok

That look of scorn and anger burned my soul.
The yellow orbs shone cold gold metal.
My throat closed up.  I turned my head away.

Black panthers in the forest move with silken stealth
Between the trees
Feet silent as they touch the fallen leaves.
Bodies are tuned like springs
For hunting, seeking a mate, guarding their territory.
Life is dangerous but meant to be that way.

Here at Lai Chi Kok there is no forest, no fallen leaves
No night of stars, no rains, no warming sun.
The cage of concrete, ceilinged with the same,
Allows no patterns of the light to change
The monotone of grey in that cold cell.

The shining coat of wilder days has gone
Now dry, worn thin and lifeless like the body it encases.
The crowd screams round and shouts and roars its joy.
I also scream inside my head and shout.
This wasted tragic death in life
Is one more horror to haunt me in the night.
And fifty feet away the funfair and the music
Blast raucously to split your ears.
And no one gives a damn.

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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