When I was nineteen, a spider bit me on the shin, and I still have the scar, a faint crescent slightly brighter than the skin around it. I was sick with the bite for almost a week but I never worried. I was bitten again this past October and only realized it when someone saw the bruise along the underside of my left arm, spreading out around a tiny central point of darker color. I went to bed that Friday night with the idea of seeing a doctor the next day, but when I woke up the bruise had faded and my arm was much less tender. Spiders seem to want me to notice their still bodies amidst the mandalas of their woven webs and against the patterns of cotton in the plastic bin where I keep old quilting pieces. The roving skitter of a daddy long legs feels like a ticklish thing to me, a dance of fingertips across concrete. The death of the five black widows who made their summer homes last year beneath my deck has even seemed a harsh subtraction, the gray beams of wood where they spun and waited diminished by an absence of coral.
Several summers ago, my brother and his wife and children came to visit. Downstairs, in the finished basement, a scorpion lived (maybe even more than one) and emerged with his tail arced over his back, guarding the treadmill and the trundle bed. I felt such a pang of love for his spiky form, for his grasping and his defiance. I swept him into the dustpan and carried him down into the woods, where I set him free.
Just after my mother died, maybe even the next day, a dragonfly came along. We call them snake doctors where I come from, though not here. At first I wasn’t sure what that noise was, that batting of wing against wall, that buzzing rustle, which sounded like a whispered secret but wasn’t. When the creature died, I found it in front of the fireplace, and I put it in a tiny pewter box, along with a palmful of dry bay leaves from my friend’s father’s central
garden. The dragonfly is still there against the box’s inner velvet, a gossamer stretch of paper falling slowly away from the axis of a twig. California
When my mother first married my father, they lived in a jailhouse. He worked all the time and she was lonely. When bats began to invade their bedroom at night, coming down from the attic, my mother and father fought back. The bats had the last laugh, though, even in death, a grisly tumble of fecundity living even now in story here, a final wickedness, a Gothic tag of the inevitability of collapse. A claim made.
I remember a night in early summer, June probably, before the sun had truly set. I was out walking, and out from the chimney of the old Roper hospital on
Refuge Road spun a rising fan of batwing and batvoice, hurrying up. There were so many of them, rushing into gnats and sky, claiming their sustenance, noisy, dense, needy. The city tore the hospital down later that year, and I still wonder where the bats went to live.
Last May mosquito hawks flew in through an open window and clung to the walls of my classroom. Although they went after them with textbooks and canvas binders, my students discovered later that the creatures they had slain were not mosquitoes, but mosquito hawks. There would have been no itchy red welts, no thirteen-year-old catastrophic malarial fantasies, no
Year before last, a little green anole came to stay with me for a couple of seasons. Her name was Bailey. I don’t know if she was really a female, but one of my students wanted the creature to have her name. A slice of amphibious beige, she drowsed behind a photograph of my grandmother, and she liked to match up with the greenness of the ficus tree’s leaves. When her blood slowed, she nestled into the moss around a different houseplant and returned to the soil around it, a leavetaking slow and holy; a docking.