Monday, 8 May 2017

A Mosquito Bite

Note: The first stanza and the final line of the last stanza are adapted from Longfellow’s translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.


Three quarters through the journey of my life
I found myself within a forest dark,
The straight path lost like an abandoned knife.

Dislodging creepers, prodding crumbled bark,
I pondered fecund August’s many hordes
Of stiff-legged insects blatant at their work:

Some like the beetle, cuirassed and with swords,
Some like the spider with its hard-jawed bite,
Others like larvae dangling on their cords,

Mucously-deporting in the pool-bright
Sumps of sun. Querying the dusty gloom
I failed to notice a mosquito’s flight:

It settled slyly like a flake of loam
On my hand’s back and, slung between its legs,
Innocuously squatted down to groom.

Distracted by the pigeons’ cooing brags,
Moments later a needle-crafty sting
Alerted me the gnat was drilling dregs

From my itchy skin. I slapped – it tried to cling – 
I swept it off and wandered on. Next day
That bite had swollen to a hot red grin;

By day’s end it had wrapped a purple-grey
Wadding of throbbing flesh from nail to wrist,
Immobilising fingers as they lay

Enfeebled in my lap. Three days that fist, 
A heat-stuffed bladder gone obesely fat,
Was useless till the venom flushed and I could twist 

My joints once more. I thought: no insect that 
So suffered would survive: ichneumon wasps
Which paralyse their fated prey so that

Their larvae, hatched, may eat the living hosts
Are emblematic of the natural world,
Its blank-eyed deafness to the screams and gasps

Of plundered creatures. When compassion’s furled 
Like dandelions on a glooming day
And lions do not nestle down with curled

Wet lambs, where is the love which wipes away
All tears and fashions ploughshares out of swords?
That ground of being which insists this clay

Maintain existence like unnumbered gourds
Toppling helplessly on a barren slope,
Described but not explained by blindfold words –

Is it brute necessity devoid of hope, 
A surd, an aimless dream within a dream,
Or is it meaning’s meaning, truth not trope?

Perhaps religion is an Elmo’s gleam,
A scintillation on the face of things,
Which purifies the predatory teem

Of red-toothed nature which, however, flings
A spider’s weave to huddle mind and flesh
Closely as abstract form to matter clings.

Mired always, man like dogs in mud must plash,
Rarely to reach the meadows where there’s smooth
Running, and racing streams in which to wash.

That’s why the country folk who gulp their broth
Of roots about the fire on winter nights
Cleave to their charms, their ju’s, a lucky tooth,

Placating field gods, pool sprites, all which frights
The dusk-bound labourer in rustling woods:
They know the retching palsy sprung by bites,

The stings, the stabbings, crushings, snuffled bloods,
The gougings, poisonings – the daily fare
Of creatures ravenous for living foods.

All animals are pagans, and in lair
Or nest there’s sensation but little sense;
Man only has been blessed or cursed to bear

Self-consciousness which toils the present tense
With memory and foresight forcing him
To know both wisdom’s fruit and Judas’ pence.

Enigma’s gift, that skull crammed to the brim
With sweetbreads flashing with Prometheus’ fire
Enabling men like demigods to limn

The warp and woof of being! That folded quire
Of brain-stuff, massed by man’s clamber atop
The pyramid of things, has fed on mire

Of flesh and fin which first has filled its crop
With greasy slaughterings of lesser fry,
So that even the smallest plankton drop

Has gifted man the protein-punch to hie
Beyond mute unreflexive matter’s grip
Like muscled salmon leaping in the sky

Clear of the foam-mad water’s riotous rip:
Thus fashioned, mind assumes old Adam’s curse,
To know death, judgement and the punishing whip.

There’s One pinioned on the thorns of furze,
His blood drops aflash in the morning’s gawp, 
Writhing like a spider pierced in that gorse

By a Butcher Bird, who aching, venom-taut,
Must plunge the creature-depths of swamping pain 
Until buried pupa-like in the droop 

Of death, imago-pure, a three-day grain,                                              
He makes a Resurrection body, clean               
Of matter’s sorrowing and fresh as rain.

Hence, there’s a justice in that bloody scene
Of self-known matter divinised by Christ
In suffering, which validates this dene

Of tears – its wastes and creature wars – as tryst 
With Being, therefore good, transforming tares
To grist, for all that is is always kissed

By the love that moves the sun and all the stars.

© April 2014

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