Failsafe

I put a plant where it couldn’t live
entirely on its own,
and then I let it die.

Not often, but occasionally, I did this.
I don’t know why, but I suspect
it has something to do with testing

a votive, leaving a life at stake,
slowing down my own mistakes,
or is this just a thing to say?

Burning fat on altars,
our ancestors, they
called it worship;

called it sacrifice. Sacrifice,
with its root in the sacred
choice removed.

Where’s my plant in this,
a living creature named
for being still, for staying,

you’d think. But older still,
a plant goes back to being flat
as a plain to spread out on,

and via that
to valley, and finally
to vanish.

To be a plant is to vanish
in plain sight. No slight
of hand, just the dictionary

ever ready to suggest
a refresh. A resurrection
fern of words.

Afterthought

Today I killed a juicy spider.
Watching it cower
as I brought the paper towel over,

I felt uneven. Not uneasy—
it was easy—but uneven,
with the odds so uneven.

I felt odd to watch
a spider raise its hackles,
strange because a spider

doesn’t have hackles (neck down)
and also didn’t raise its body,
and also, probably, wasn’t upset.

Let me try again: I felt uneven
to watch a spider lower
its abdomen to the floor,

as a mammal might, fresh out
of defenses, or hiding places,
vulnerable and aware of this,

exposed in its own bivouac,
conceding to its missing shell
that now may be the moment

just to cower—
cower and wait
for the threat to decide.

Or again, the weight
on uneven, whatever else:
it means a tingle raised in skin

used to missing feathers,
our haphazard bumps of
uncanniness or fear. Our third ear.

Is it that,
in the push of a rush,
I felt mercy was a nuisance?

Christopher Phelps lives in Santa Fe where he teaches math and creative studies for a Montessori high school. He is both queer and autistic. His poems have appeared recently in Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry, and The Nation. He hasn’t harmed a spider or neglected a plant in several years.

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