nthposition online magazine

The decline of the beetle empire & Ion dubh

by John W Sexton

[ poetry - may 03 ]

The decline of the beetle empire

The beetle followed a jagged, hesitant route
through the shifting fingers of grass-shadows,
detoured under the immobile shadows of stones.
     Other shadows, unsubstantial, the fast-moving orbs
of feathered seeds, dandelions, hawkweeds,
brushed swiftly over his path.
     Ants pondered in their mathematical courses
as he trundled past them,
ignoring his polished, resplendent body.
     But then a shadow that appeared suddenly
was no longer a shadow, but the piercing sword
of a shrike's beak. And this swift mouth ended,
with one hammering snap,
the secret knowledge of the Beetle Emperor.
     And there was the Beetle Emperor now,
his black cloak crushed,
his delicate petticoats of wings sliced and torn,
and the index of his incredible mind
scattered everywhere.
     A glistening grass-lizard that had observed
all of this
blinked liquidly,
then disappeared as fast as thought,
the long stalks of grass trembling, trembling
where he had been.
     Underneath the ground worms moved blindly
in their tunnels, siphoning the earth
through their long bodies.
     Nearer to the surface, the larvae of beetles
also turned in their gritty womb,
and the tendrils of grass roots
felt their way into the darkness,
grain of earth by grain of earth.

lon dubh

All those looking into the weed-choked weir
can hear your unmistakable warning.
You only sing when invisible, dressed
in the vibrant clothing of hedge or fern.
You wear the sharp briared floor like a hood.

When you were made your body was as clear
as glass. Then you flew into the evening
just a bit too far to come back. Darkness
tainted your body like smoke; night became
your colour and you stayed that way for good.

Now, they say, you never fly at night. Fear
hides you (even though you cannot be seen).
But during the day you're a dark blot, less
than light. Blackbird, every child knows your name.
Your voice takes on your shape inside the wood.

It is your thin see see see that I hear.
I enter the forest at your urging,
care nothing that my life is in a mess.
Night begins to fall but I'm glad I came.
Then darkness fills the space where once I stood.