Dispatch from this Summer

By Elizabeth Bradfield


Gypsy moth: Lymantria dispar dispar

Frayed, moth-eaten, vulnerable. Those Florida dancers
gunned down & my young self coming out dancing & pathetic
fallacy (dispar dispar) crawls all over June’s fresh oaks,

gnawing them to a February canopy. The news, bad
oracle, gnaws fact & rumor. Above, unrelenting
mastication, defoliation. Lymantria, ‘destroyer,’ all else gone,

you hump up even the stiff needles of pines. What will happen
come winter, no sun stored? Should we spray? Should
we shun social media? Avoid large aggregations? How

hot the birds must be, unshaded in their nests. (Guilty
thrill of peering down on them, black-billed cuckoos calling.)
Other wings. The white towering stagecraft of angels

sentry at Orlando’s mourning. We consider what it would take
to pick the trees clean. Could we? The bark the grass the ground
writhes. In a grove in China, a grim documentary:

honeybees gone, people pollinate fruit trees by hand. I twitch away
from one caterpillar dangling from its thread, hanging by
the silk that brought it here, to the New World, to Massachusetts

even, because some merchant in 1869—while Grant
took the presidency and Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke
before Congress and the Golden Spike was hammered

into Utah and the South fumbled through what’s called
Reconstruction—thought crop, harvest, riches & hoped
the long, expensive trek to mulberry unnecessary. We gnaw

through news feeds. We post & share, unsure
if we are offering or consuming. In the forest, a constant
heavy frass. On my side of the river, healthy trees. Oak leaves

thick and dark. In the dance clubs near me, there is
dancing. But introduction, dispersal. In the week
after Pulse, in Massachusetts, 450% more guns like that gun

were sold. If you can stand to walk a narrow path through the leafless
forest, you can arrive at a circle of water that will allow your body
to be beautifully held, whoever you are. It’s true, you’ll have to return

by the same path, go back through those apocalyptic trees. If
I had waited a month to begin this poem, I would have begun
with the re-leafing, fuzzed red growth in late July, moth-flutter

among the trunks not angelic but like paper corners that didn’t
get burned in someone’s attempted or accidental. Is it too late?
Now, plastered to bark, the russet humps of eggs that I scrape with a stick
—vengeful, hopeful, despairing—even as they are being laid.

—North Truro, 2016

First published in About Place

About the Author

Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of the poetry collections Once Removed, Approaching Ice, Interpretive Work and the forthcoming Toward Antarctica. Her poems and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, West Branch, Orion and many anthologies. She has been awarded a Stegner Fellowship, the Audre Lorde Prize, and was a finalist for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. Founder and editor-in-chief of Broadsided Press, she lives on Cape Cod, works as a naturalist locally as well as on expedition ships in the high latitudes, and teaches creative writing at Brandeis University. www.ebradfield.com


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