The Open Window
Moths shot in from the night, alone, or in swathes,
they made for the lit bulb. Somewhere above wings
blundered into a murderous calligraphy. The wing
strokes gone awry whet my hearing, the arabesques
too long and jagged. I closed the window, turned
the page and resumed my reading.
I was then a student living on a hill, bulwarked
by the stones, the air and the trees. The fierce
and aristocratic vista that expanded from my
shambled abode. I drank strong black coffee
each morning in the astringent dawn. I grew
an unkempt beard, reading the great German
Philosopher Schopenhauer, watching hawks
glide. I trained my thoughts to shape the wind
when it grasped and lurched around the base
of the hill.
I anticipated the loneliness, the kitchen dirtied
and grown oblong in the queer afternoon light
I knew it would not be easy, that hypocrisy worms
into stone. I knew it all, and then the moths came.
There was to be no ethic to our contact,
the wings flailing air, the torso thwarted
into a violent and aimless pulse; misfiring
rather than entering into pain.
I would have rather donned an executioner’s hood,
pinched the wings and dragged the moth
into a flame, watching it ignite into
a black and stinking pulp. And here
I was ferreting the hapless creatures
in cupped hands.
Later, I shirked the trees, the winter rain
snarled through the branches and pissed
into slumped and hanging leaves. And I,
malingerer that I was, was not accepting
sanctuary, scowling into the edge of an idea.
Instead I fell asleep, sad and flat
as a folded paper flower, or child,
with the trapped moths, waiting,
waiting, when there was nothing
to be done.
A Moth Dies
A moth fell from the corner of the wall.
Its wings folded, it smeared through air
for under a second, like a bird’s dark
dropping, or a stalactite of rain water
that falls from a gutter or tree branch.
It lay on the floor rigid, brown, dead,
another stain, only weighted, to end
up on the kitchen floor.
But then I looked again, at the ritual
the tiny creature had performed upon
itself, the dull, shrunken wings a cape
it had shrouded itself with, the curled
proboscis hidden in the thin sanctuary
of its wings.
I thought about the human animal,
its stark nakedness on the death bed;
the uselessness of prayers and the soul
to shield the body from that exposure,
the final disgrace.
“Don’t waste your pity on us,” the moths
told me later, “Born with wings
our body closes its own wound.”
I considered the sterilized hospital sheet,
the absurd make up and clothes we dress
dead bodies up in, the coffin, the earth,
the vase of ashes, the incendiary flame.
Bio: Ben Shermbrucker is currently finishing a degree in English and Philosophy at Rhodes University, South Africa. He writes and reads poetry whenever he can. He agrees with Seamus Heaney that “poems verify our singularity, they strike and stake out the ore of self which lies at the base of every individual.”