| Paulann Petersen


On Hearing About the Female Earwig

Only now do I learn you could fly away—
with perfectly workable wings that lie hidden,
folded in tiny cases. But no matter.
You won't move from your eggs.
For weeks the thread of your tongue
licks each milky oval, keeping
the cluster of pale fruit
safe from infection. 
                                   A child, I'd heard—
from your very name—the threat.
While I slept in darkness, unaware,
you would seek out the moist canal of my ear,
your pincered body then hidden inside me,
gathering gleam from that passageway's
amber wax. 
                     I begged my parents to keep me
from ever falling asleep on the scatter
of fallen leaves where you lived. Turning back
a corner of sun-bleached percale on my bed,
they soothed, "Never mind, never mind.
You mustn't believe whatever
you hear." 
                   Hatched, your nymphs huddle
under the burnished chain
of your body. When they later stray
every which way into the leaf mold,
you bring them back to seek
the wet feast of decay, guarding them
until they've each cast two sets
of binding skin. 
                            My own children grew up
alongside rows of sibilant sweet corn
rising an inch a day. The silk spurting
from each ear held one or two
of your kin in its tangle of threads.
"There" I said to my daughter, to my son,
"must be the reason for their name.
Those are the ears where they live"—
and yet, I knew my own Nana had seen
a kitchen that harbored your kind
as dirty, so pressed each earwig she saw
into a dark stain with a quick
plummet of thumb. 
                                  After your labors
have seen the moon lose its husk of light
not once, but twice, you die,
exhausted. Your body then the bread
of your children's last meal
before they take their
separate ways. 
                           My parents and their parents
are decades dead. Each day my children
move farther beyond what I can give them.
I grow old knowing little. Never
could I have dreamed I'd find myself
being drawn to you—your story
having found, 
                         at last, 
                                      its way to my ear.

                       —Paulann Petersen


One Small Sun, Salmon Poetry, 2019


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