Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2016  Vol. 15 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
 print preview


The way I was taught, I waited till evening, then lifted
the torch to the paper nest & watched it ignite—
a few precisely engineered wasps burst forth
like embers,
some of them, their bodies flaming,
sparks of angry light against the dusking sky.

In this fashion I became a bringer of apocalypse.
Oh, I liked it
even if I could no longer recognize
the reflection in the window of parked cars I passed.

For years I dreamt of those insects,
their winged bodies ablaze, & of how fire scours everything—
such an uncomplicated physics. A friend of mine then

whose name literally means good man
told me how he’d burned down his childhood church
when he was ten, an accident
involving fireworks & votives:
the Roman candle shooting forth fiery hornets among the sacristy.
Three alarms! Smoke rising in black columns like cataclysm &
becoming one with shadowy clouds, & in it
an occasional pop & flash of a beehive or brocade,

the smell of sulfur among it all. For years
he swept the new vestibule & mowed the grounds as a penance.
He married a woman named Sue Love at that altar &

the minister, having known him since then &
having presided over his first marriage, too, laughed

at the reception when a barrage of comets was released
into the thick August sky like artillery. Love & the good man
in that town with its too short summers & wildfires
farther out in the state forests,

with the holy ghost stumbling home from the bar Saturday nights,
a black thing with wings cast onto the asphalt at twilight.
His gift of tongues. His gift of fire.

Wasps are perfect hunters, my friend said,
with their body armor & switchblade abdomens,
the way they can sting again & again to protect the colony.

Sometimes we find the remains of one under the eaves,
the paper combs fragile as scroll fragments of our most sacred texts.  

return to top