Cockroach [1]

On moving to Austin, I invented cockroaches. [2]

The first was spun out of lateness and consolation. [3]

Earlier times, however, had prepared me to view virtually all surprises as pests. [4]

Programming is like that. [5]

Regrettably, I suppose I was (and am) proofed. [6]

I sensed haute loss in what their bodies said about me, or made me into—

either way I went. [7]

But if I can be frank with you (and I think I can), I’ve never gotten over their bodies. [8]

If the roaches I’ve killed had graves I would be sure to visit them weekly

and lay aqueous flowers in remembrance and remorse. [9]

At the awareness of this fantasy, innumerable new besties fill my hands,

clamoring to rub up against something solid—

mercifully, I’m not abandoned but infested—

and I resolve to do strangeness harder. [10]


[1] “I had experienced sensitivity to place before. When I was a child,
I had suddenly had the sense that I was lying on a bed that was in a city
that was on the Land that was in the World. Just as when I was a child,
I now had the clear sense that I was completely alone in a house
and that the house was high and free-floating in the air,
and that this house had invisible cockroaches in it”
(Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H., 42).

[2] In the Latin sense,  in + venire = to discover, to come into [knowledge of], 
to find out [about]. Not right away—in fact, not for about a month of inhabiting 
a tiny studio apartment, a month of insensate solitude and deafening silence,
before classes began and just after my decade-long relationship ended.
My partner had been called Maxwell. Oil painter and railroad engineer.
And when we broke it off, he left for Memphis and I for here.

[3] Lemme confess a certain secret relief upon hearing scuffles beneath my refrigerator,
over the hum of the refrigerator, raspings I couldn’t quite place. It was big noise 
and seemed too much so to be anything odd. I thought a mouse. Or a mole. 
Only, I was relieved to not be as alone as I had assumed.

[4] My family, I knew, wouldn’t have approved of any comfort I might take with/in roaches.
“Buy some cans of Raid,” my father had warned earlier that week over the phone,
“you don’t know what kinds of creepy crawlies they have down there…like scorpions!”
(This is an exact quote...from what I recall. Who knows how exact Dad could get.)
Meaning, in essence, I wasn’t meant for Texas. Terra incognita, indubitably, 
for one raised on great sheets of glare ice and skate blades and Minnesota nice.

[5] I laughed then and I laugh now at such a zealous expression of mistrust—
He sounded like a buckle-shod pilgrim shoring scripture up against a savage wilderness. 
He sounded like it had never occurred to him that I might be part woman 
and part scorpion 
and all savage, myself. 
He sounded like invertebrates and queer poets don’t trigger that same revulsions 
or subsist off the same scraps, like we’re not equally low and resourceful.

[6] I did procure the poison and I did use it. 
First there was one roach, then, after Raiding the entire perimeter of my apartment, 
there were four of various sizes that emerged to expire—some bellies up, others procumbent. 
I don’t really recall deciding to do them in. And besides flushing their envenomed forms, 
all I remember of the time after is flopping on my couch and crying in a dumb, mucousy way. 
(I used never to cry. It’s something I trained hard to produce when called for. 
A toned instinct for the athlete in me.)
Crying about vermin murder and the rights humans can’t help but aver. 
Crying from departures, exes, and being a terrible pest-host. 
Crying of refusing companions. Crying de bug.

[7] But because I’d gone with spraying, I felt madeover as xenophobic and a horrifying sinner. 
By the time you’re reading this, though, there have been many others. 
These days I kill with less of what my mother would term “dramatics,” all tight-lipped and slack-eyed. 
TX creepers slowly morphed into the mosquitos or no-see-ums of my youth: 
necessary executions I carried out around campfires or on the lake.
It’s maybe true that Mom is a sturdier and more nurturing woman than I...but she’d never tolerate roaches, 
only North Woods and their natural inhabitants. Or maybe this species lives up there, too? 
Maybe I was led astray by their invisibility in her stories? Ones filled to the brim with leeches 
getting scorched off flesh by cigarettes in the hands of women with Jackie Kennedy sunglasses 
on their bare faces. Anyway, at some point I guess I drew a line above cockroaches, 
demoting them to the already-bloated ranks of animate things that aren’t worth a second 
(let alone third or fourth) thought. I have a can or two of their undoing under my sink at this very moment, in fact.
At this moment I’m under an entirely different roof, engaged to an entirely different Maxwell. 
He spins code and eats data like a spider...which is to say, like a girl might if the right goddess turned her.

[8] Last night I had a dream about an affair I was once invited to have, 
only in the dream I said “yes” and I hadn't been assaulted and I was suddenly metamorphosed 
into an enormous, whiskey-brown vermin à la Gregor Samsa. 
My new body disgusted the philanderer in question, as one might expect, and so I was safe 
from that particular. But thereafter no one would friend me or look me in the eye 
(which, I suppose, was probably my anxiety irl...and, speaking more broadly, 
probably the reason I have such radical tastes but ultimately pretty quotidien relationships). 
When I woke this morning, I straight away went to the mirror to looked myself in the eye—
my appearance was more or less the same as previous ones, 
so I put on heels and a suit in order to persuade myself that I was: 
1) a human being
2) a female poet
3) able to teach and not seem like I had ever been made an object of sex and/or violence.

[9] My aunt, who lived here before I came, told me they’re attracted to water. I am too. 
I think I’d look like a damned dewy Narcissus kneeling one by one over gaping holes in the ground.
Surprises could be wondrous. Perhaps that’s all my dissertation will amount to 
(i.e., nothing more than the effort to track down their bodies and bury them according to custom, 
with full knowledge that deep-sixing anything always already anticipates its rising from the grave).
I’d jump at the chance to open up all the mourning that normally goes without reward. 
I’d jump at the chance to live with the corpses I’ve brought into being 
(it seems only just, after all, to expose my own shortcomings if I intend to expose others’ gaps)

[10] Footnotes are to text as we are to arthropods. Or is it the other way round?
The more beasties I’ve dispensed with in the everyday world, 
the more pop up in my mind, my machine, my discipline, and my lines.
E.R. Emison