Which is more inexpressible, the beautiful or the terrifying?
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.
A mother of small children, I learned to forge
ahead to take the brunt of giant grasshoppers,
to capture inch-long centipedes
between Dixie cups to lob outside,
to pull, then pop ticks from baby scalps
before baby or bloody tick realized,
to chuck fragile daddy longlegs, apologetically,
from tents containing sleeping children,
to spray small limbs with DEET
against mosquitos that might carry virus,
to lure yellow jackets away from ice cream
to drown in sweetened drink,
(but never to cage crickets or lightning
bugs or to kill spiders). As
a woman with grown children, I have learned
to stop time: to watch a water strider
skate on liquid film; to feel a dragonfly’s
neon needle stitch me close;
to stare while a lady bug gorges
herself on aphids, freeing buds in my garden
while a caterpillar spins itself
into a gold carapace that,
at least this time, turns clear,
swelling with wet, veined, fragile wings;
to note a bee humming above a lover
and me lying in soft purple vetch.
Nine hundred thousand species of insects
have been named; thirty million more
remain nameless (their fecundity reaching
far beyond Adam’s attention span).
Eve would gladly do it: taking all
the time in the world to weave each new
name into the gauzy web of consciousness.
Naming calms, connects, comforts. I
remember being a child, rocking in pain,
hearing the threatening buzz of August locusts,
trying to soothe my unnamed dis-ease
as my father crouched
beside me, impatient to convince
that going to the doctor would not be
the death of me, though it seemed to me
to have been the obvious cause of my sister’s.
When he died, thirty years later,
in the hospital, at the very end,
the boy that he once was called
for his mother (by then many years
gone from cancer), to hold his hand, to sing
his name, perhaps to tell him once again
that he was loved and not to be afraid,
that it was safe to sleep.
So even grown children give us no
leave to die. And yet we do: shape-
shifting them into orphans who
must face, venture to touch, name
their dread, their beautiful Un-
named, to sound its unsounded depth,
to stutter its new syllables in
unfathomable tongues: even,
uneasy humans on this still
flowing, happy earth, to hold
out their arms to claim what
once so terrified.