~ by Karl Shapiro
O hideous little bat, the size of snot,
With polyhedral eye, and shabby clothes,
To populate the stinking cat you walk
The promontory of a dead man’s nose,
Climb with the fine leg of a Duncan Phyfe
The smoking mountains of my food
And in a comic mood
In mid-air take to bed a wife.
Riding and riding with your filth of hair
On gluey foot or wing, forever coy,
Hot from the compost and green sweet decay,
Sounding your buzzer like an urchin toy,
You dot all whiteness with diminutive stool,
In the tight belly of the dead
Burrow with hungry head
And inlay maggots like a jewel.
At your approach the great horse stomps and paws
Bringing the hurricane of his heavy tail.
Shod in disease you dare kiss my hand
Which sweeps against you like an angry flail.
Still you return, return, trusting your wing
To draw you from the hunter’s reach
That learns to kill to teach
Disorder to the tinier thing.
My peace is your disaster. For your death
Children like spiders cup their pretty hands
And wives resort to chemistry of war.
In fens of sticky paper and quicksands
You glue yourself to death. Where you are stuck
You struggle hideously and beg.
You amputate your leg
Imbedded in the amber muck.
But I, a man, must swat you with my hate,
Slap you across the air and crush your flight,
Must mangle with my shoe and smear your blood,
Expose your little guts, pasty and white,
Knock your head sideways like a drunkard’s hat,
Pin your wings under like a crow’s,
Tear off your flimsy clothes
And beat you as one beat’s a rat.
Then like Gargantua I stride among
The corpses strewn like raisins in the dust,
The broken bodies of the narrow dead
That catch the throat with fingers of disgust.
I sweep. One gyrates like a top and falls
And stunned, stone blind, and deaf,
Buzzes its frightful F
And dies between three cannibals.
Karl Shapiro writes an ode, full of erudite speculation and lofty speech, to a swatted fly. Much as Robert Burns wrote an address to a louse crawling on a fine lady’s hat in church. And as John Donne anatomized the glory in the life-cycle of a flea that had bitten his mistress.