August Caterpillar

Ann Johnson 'Green Gate'
‘Garden with Moon’ 
I stand by the apple tree,
my attention caught
by a big fly and a caterpillar
sharing the same leaf.

They are both
steady still.

Waiting, I wonder: who will move first?

It is the caterpillar.

It raises a face
with fringed eyes.

It has a yellow stripe
down its inch-long body.

The caterpillar sways
its head
left then right.

It curls into a question.

The fly
has a face
and eyes

but its dark
seems suddenly

I regard again
the caterpillar.

How tender
the undulating body.
I forgive the hole
in the leaf
of the apple tree.

I regard again
the fly
squat & braced.

I hover
on the brink
of intervention
like an uncertain god

but the fly

a single ferocious stab
to the soft side
of the caterpillar
then - gone.

The caterpillar
on the leaf
in an ecstasy
of wounding.
Its front end is up,
its head,
it curls back on itself,
it sways,
screws into a ball,
a kind of dervish dance,
it twists
onto its back,
its russet underside,
its paddling feet.

Then its head
finds the wound

a bubble
of translucent fluid,
its life
leaking out.

What to do?
What to do?

Down from the apple-tree leaf
climbs the caterpillar.

Down onto a branch and along
it goes, pausing to tend its wound.

Down it goes, undulant and resolute
            safe beneath a lower leaf
in the cradle of a bough
it curls to tend its wounded side –

and how does it go, that line

that every creature shall be to thee
a mirror of life?

Note: Quotation in final line by Thomas á Kempis.

In Going Gentle (Gomer, 2007) 


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