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?