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THE BLACK AND ORANGE DEAD (poem) - Anthony Lawrence - Australia - Poetry International
 
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The Black and Orange Dead
A cluster of ladybirds makes a detail
from a cob of charred or blighted corn.
Separated,
                 they enamel any surface
like waterbeads
containing a matchhead’s reflected flare and death.
 
I part the leaves of the radish
and find carnage:
                           ladybirds, front legs
working into the sides of their heads
as if trying to prise tiny black helmets off,
the visors jammed with aphids
               like stove-grills
                           wet ash has rendered useless.
 
Opening their wings, there are wings
beneath them:
              an overcoat’s tails
                          flipped back to reveal
the tails of another, smaller coat.
 
I take a ladybird from a leaf, imagining myself
as I did picking green and orange cicadas
like loud, vibrating fruit from trees when young:
                                                         insect-sized,
 
held aloft by a giant,
               pincered roughly
               until the fluids broke from my eyes.
 
I hold it, because holding is what humans feel
they need to do to living things.
              When I open my hand, it ambles
like a freckled naturalist
             over the moist topography of my palm,
                                                   and I remember
a concert in a tree-lined square in Granada
at dusk: a woman fisting the silver
              bellflower of a French horn; swallows
                         becoming their own shadows;
a ladybird negotiating the hairs on my arm.
 
Have you ever pressed the rim of an acorn’s cap
until the rim collapsed?
                                      Perhaps it was
the last note from a clarinet
returning from the walls of a Gothic cathedral,
             or swallows, angling for insects
like semi-quavers over the trees
that had distracted me . . .
I’d squeezed the beetle between finger and thumb –
my wet skin smelled of decay.
 
Here in the garden, vegetables
             are being mined by green grubs
                        one stage from white, erratic flight.
The old-fashioned spray pump I steer
like the design for a blade-and-wingless aircraft
come to life,
                    is blowing pyrethrum
like burnt fuel over everything.
The grubs rise into death,
globes of milky fluid at the ends of their mouths;
the aphids mobilise, then fuse
into a wart-like mound, their sucking bodies
outnumbering the black and orange dead.