One August bagworms lit my father’s
evergreens like Christmas lights. Thousands
of gold cocoons. Simple materials,
needles and something like spit
to hold them together. He told me
to get outside and pick them off the bushes.
Looking back, I see myself standing there,
hesitant, a tin pan dangling in my hand.
What was I thinking? The nuns at school
were always reminding us of the pains
of hell: the fire, the darkness, the worms
that ate but did not consume the sinner.
Or maybe I was thinking about my aunt
in her beautiful cherry box,
cushioned by velvet on all sides.
The worms would be halfway through
the wood by now. In less than a year
there’d be nothing but bones.

When my father came out to cut the grass,
he yelled at me, I remember that,
above the roar of the mower,
so I started in, the heat like a fur coat
turned inside out, the sweet smell
of clipped grass, the choking smoke.
The pods were sticky, prickly.
As I worked I saw the inchlings
crawling from their sleeping bags
like kids waking at camp.

When the pan was full, he took it
and told me to come with him out back
to the trash pit where we burned
the newspaper. I loved watching
each sheet as it blackened, curled,
and revealed the unburnt page underneath
just before it caught. But not this time,
when he poured my little captives
onto the charred ground,
shook gas onto them —
I thought of the priest at High Mass
sprinkling us with holy water —
and lit them like charcoal.

Oh, they curled too in the sudden heat,
blood-smoke rising sideways in the pit.
What must he have thought, seeing me
staring, fists clenched, the moisture
boiling from my cheeks and eyes,
trying to read that fiery script?