I wrote this poem the year I first moved to Chicago for grad school…so that would be 1993, I guess. Anyway, I got here at the beginning of the summer, and I was in student housing with an older guy who was pleasant enough, but who before my arrival hadn’t kept the place very clean. As a result, as the summer went on, we experienced a truly horrific roach infestation, culminating one day in me waking up, looking up, and seeing one of the little critters creeping across the window. They’re semi-translucent with the sun behind them. Who knew?
I was also reading Darwin at the time, and also (embarrassingly enough) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Putting all those things together into this dinky little poem took me over a year and probably an entire notebook’s worth of paper; I wrote and rewrote it like a hundred times. And I really liked it when it was done, and some other people liked it…but not any editors, unfortunately. So finally 16 years later I’m just publishing it myself. Here ya go.
Animals turn into roaches —
landscape determines shape!
Ceilings close to clutch forests and fields,
and dodo and bison, raccoon, deer and sea gull
creep out of their shriveling skin
and creep into cracks in the walls.
And though they have lost the horizon’s broad touch,
they have no regrets. Narrowness, too, is a boon,
and landscape and shape both fit as before! Immune, now,
to waste and constriction of space and the bomb
they thank the city for half-eaten food
and accept without fear the descent of a shoe.
Beneath kitchen floors and inside sinks and toilets
they are cupped in the cradle of each evening breath,
and wait with the patience of shadows and corners
for the curve of dark to eclipse all room borders,
and for the wide dawn when the wise insect kiss
of antenna brushed against tongue and lips,
will wake sleepers to roaches on windows and eyes —
to sunlight shining through a landscape the shape
of boneless amber backs and boneless silver legs;
the movement of bodies pressed close together
as if to become one rustling creature
stretching to cover the world.