Susan Meyers   •  October 25, 2004

I Couldn’t Say Why

Maybe it’s their numbers, the heavy clot of them
inside each web pitched in the forks of cherry trees,
small scourges that inch out over a limb as if
they’re knitting and purling a sleeve. Maybe
it’s their blind appetite for beauty, how they chew
and defecate their way through spring’s first leaves.
Tent caterpillars are everywhere — like feelings

you refuse to admit to — creeping up the trunks
of sweet gums, hordes striping the garden gate,
the wheelbarrow’s red lip. Squash them, and your
sole slicks with mustard ooze. Don’t squash,
and they spin a silver trail skyward. Then more
leaves disappear, ungreening the trees to brown.
Prune, my county agent says, but prune a tree’s fork

and what’s left? This year, I jab and twirl with a pole
until the web is a twisted heap, worms jerking in air
as if jumping from fire, falling to ground
in a clump. Then come my rubber boots. Next year
I’ll do it again, earlier, more accurately, though
I like myself less for it. I could say I can’t help myself
but I can. I could say pest or plague. I could say

rescue, but I couldn’t say why my feet stomp
and grind long after the last twitch in the dirt,
reminding me of the friend who, one day, rocked
his truck back and forth on the road at the end
of my driveway, shifting gears so fast I wondered
what else it was, besides the four-foot pulse
of flesh beneath his wheels, he’d aimed to kill.