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Christopher Matthews

Beneficial Insects

Really mortality cannot be overemphasized, & even
the artist without pretensions, who has illustrated
with quiet civility these two dozen or so
beneficial insects, has inscribed here her subtle revolt
against stasis: invigoration: the bugs
invigorate the chart like a diagram of a dance step: the bugs

invigorate the chart with their
fuzzy cha-cha-chas. Some of them
are purely good—Damsel Fly & Lacewing—& represent
their larger constituencies: this cricket stands for
the average cricket, taxpaying cricket, the cricket-
on-the-street who can spark a weepy pang no less

sincere for being misguided
by stroking his legs like violins whose thin cries
stop traffic, stop pedestrians, stop the incessant
snatching & mugging & ogling, whose thin cries
put life in perspective for the harried shopper
& cabbie alike, each reunited

gently with themselves. On the other hand,
the Assassin Fly & Cicada Killer
enact a goodness entirely relative, eliminate
nuisances like those flies flitting about your glass of juice
whose lives are smaller than human eyes
can detect, vomiting on their prey to predigest it—that is, the flies

vomit, not our eyes, though it may be just
as true of them. Edmund Spenser used to say
the eyes when seeing shot out needles, & sights seen
shot needles back, so just by seeing
a wounded knight you’d be literally
pierced by pity—pity was a wound

made between two people. And since
the strategies of eyes are still too small to see, we must
presume they happen everywhere—at home, in
public, where we fear being muddied but are
punctured & thrown up upon
in minuscule ways.

A nice old man in Italy might say, "Ah,
the cricket, he is beautiful!"—heels might loom
above his fragile head (the cricket’s, not the man’s), but
he(the cricket) is pure music; so even if
we, careless in a frenzied rush, grind him (the cricket)
into the pavement, his place would be taken by another cricket

identical to him, & their music would float out & on, beyond
their delicate bodies, beyond the delicate
hearts of stars—for example, Alpha Centauri, closest
we can see with our naked eyes
whose determined darts will reach its furnace in roughly
five years when they’ll ignite & cease to relay back

useful information—closest except
Proxima Centauri, which is not so bright—closest except
the sun, where we should not look.
But all this may be
just true of the man in Italy, who might be
pure music, who might serenade us in some

unremarkable, human way, who might
be representative of his larger constituency, who might be
crushed invisibly, off-stage, in parentheses, before
Edmund Spenser ever has a chance to care, beyond
pity, beyond sympathy made sound, beyond the final punctuation
we delay as long as possible with mere words.


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