Insides on the outside. I was always told That they’re rigid suits of armour That cannot stretch or fold – Usually, the process is To shed, and swell, and harden – And that’s their lot, till next they moult – No piling all the lard on ! But the sloughing of the shell enables Fixing dings and missing limbs – And that’s why adult lobsters Keep on shrugging off their skins. They don’t increase that much in size, But do perform repairs – Though there is danger here as well, When things go wrong downstairs – Not to mention getting trapped half-way, Their robes un-doffed, Or creeping-in mutations, Or if gobbled-up when shedder-soft. So long-lived lobsters in the end Just wear the same old clothes, And adult insects die before The wear-and-tearing shows –
And mostly this is true – But creatures are a funny lot, And odd ones swarm into the mind Like ants around a honeypot. To pluck out one example, Just ask a termite queen Why her bum looks big it that While her subjects are so lean ? And she’ll reply, “My abdomen was once a slender thing, But see how it slowly stretches year-by-year, And king-by-king. And though I’m decades-old And my body marked with time, I’m very well-attended To keep me in my prime – I since I lie about all day, What need I beauty for ? Or even care for working legs Which barely reach the floor ? The changing fashions of the young are not for me, My togs are fine – I take-in food and pop-out eggs In this old skin of mine.”
Ramshorn snails with ammonite shells, A spiral without a hint of helix, More like a wheel than a pyramid, I feel, Just adding variety into the mix. Some look drunken with sideways shells, Half flat on their backs and half-falling off Like a coil of rope – but they seem to cope, And it’s still a home, and we shouldn’t scoff.
And honestly, they’re shaped much more like a ramshorn Than any ram’s horn, which is more like a corkscrew – Though any shepherd could tell you with scorn That some horns’ spirals leave gaps you could walk through. Unlike the snails, those geometric purists – And yet they’re just tourists in the twist of fate – They barely take a turn and let the helter-skelter churn, Yet rams’ horns grow ev’ry which way but straight.
But I know what you’re thinking: what about the hermit crabs ? What of it will spring-loaded scavengers make ? Will they recycle these torus-shaped slabs, Or are they afraid that their body-skew will break ? Is such shelly symmetry unnecessary gimmickry ? Or circular efficiency for streamlining’s sake ? Much better suited than the filigreed or fluted, Or the messy-convoluted coilings of a snake.
Ramshorn snails with ammonite shells, So ambidextrous in their twisting – Easy gliders or top-heavy sliders ? Some are upright, and others are listing. If snails have ramshorns then rams have crownhorns, The biggest ones worn by the king of the dales – And even when shorn, it becomes a shepherd’s cornet To warn us of the wolves or the thieves or the snails.
The European Garden Spider Bore a name both accurate and dull. Till some do-gooding Victorian Decided to give the matter a good old mull – And, believing truth must always bow To poetic hyperbole, He grandly named them all orb-weavers And wrote to the Times after tea. Who cares if the webs are as flat as a silk cravat ?, (Of course, monogrammed). Should he have named them all plate-spinners ? Geometry be d-mned !
Never drop your tardigrade in alcohol or acid, when It isn’t curled-up tightly like a bun. Never dehydrate it, or stop its oxygen, Until all of its shrivelling is done. Never heat your tardigrade a hundred-plus degrees, Or blast it with a gamma ray, or leave it out to freeze, Or send it into space, or in a pressure fit to squeeze – Unless it is a hibernating tun. If it’s slowly, slowly moving, Best to leave it be – For now is not the time for proving Indestructibility. For a tardy’s only hardy When its legs no longer run… But if it’s small and in a ball ? Then sure, go have some fun.
Always getting in our way, By stringing threads across our paths, Or playing statues on our carpets, Getting trapped inside our baths, Or hanging down from lightshades Or on wing-mirrors, left unchecked, Or guarding rarely-opened doors We never asked them to protect – Always forcing us to shoo them, Leaving webs that we must snap – No wonder we believe the lie That some get swallowed while we nap !
Always stinging beads of dew, And cupboard-lurking in surprise, Always scuttling just in view Of the very corners of our eyes – Yet when the flies are buzzing, buzzing, Where are they to shoot them down ? And all that silk as strong as steel, Yet can’t be farmed to spin a gown. Always raising jumps and squeals And relocated in alarm – No wonder we believe the lie That spiders only bring us harm.
Coral, that was her name – Not Carol or Cora, but Coral del Mar. Dressed in yellowy-pink, she came, As if from an attic trunk or bizarre. Prickly brittle, broken free, Yet often shrinking into her shell – She loved to watch the shallow sea As if in want of a diving bell.
In all of the places that dusters don’t get to, On covings and pelmets, in cupboards and sheds – With many a squeam and a shudder, I bet you, We know what we’ll find on the dust-heavy threads – The graveyards of spiders, with hook-leggèd carcasses, Either their owners are dead, or they’re gone And abandoned their earlier mobile fortresses, Ditched by the web-side while they scamper on.
Tumbleweeds that tremble in our gasps, As though they’re still alive – With finger-legs that only clasp The empty air that makes them jive, But couldn’t cling to life, or cling to guts. Or maybe shells of burry nuts, Which lie in wait to hitch a ride, With tiny eggs they plant inside To spread their brood to distant nooks and huts. They’re single-used, these chitin gowns – Abandoned and outgrown, Have they no life as hand-me downs, Or overcoats of bone ?
I wonder, could a hermit-fly purloin one, Use it as a neat disguise ? It has, of course, too many legs, too many eyes. But carpenter bees could join in, To adapt the suit, adjust the fit, And silkworms help to sew up any split. Maybe for a little coin An enterprising beetle may Collect the lot, and set them on display. Just the thing to look soigné – The best-dressed bugs and social sets Are spider-clad, from palps to spinnerets.
Why does nothing eat these ? No nutrients, presumably. They cannot flee, they cannot rust, They simply scatter through the endless desert drifts of dust. And so the dunes accrete these, Until they’re swallowed down, To sink and drown, or fossilise – The only clue that they were empty are the missing eyes.
All the world is nemotodes By dozens by each cubic inch – The soil is crammed to overload, The oceans feel the pinch – These tiny, tiny vermiforms In crevice, desert, gut and tree Together make such mighty swarms More massive than humanity. From ocean trench to distant beach To icecap, there they burst – Wherever we have strived to reach, The threadworms got there first. Whatever we may think about them, Still these parasites abound – We cannot live without them, For the roundworms make the world go round.
I saw a lepidopter’s case, A peon to the butterfly. With filigree of carapace From abdomen to compound eye. The duffer who possessed these critters Spoke at loving length of flitters.
I wondered how this gent possessed Their tiny feet and stain-glass wings, For clearly one who so obsessed Could never harm so precious things – Therefore, it must surely follow, Ev’ry bodyshell was hollow.
These weren’t spent, discarded parts – For butterflies can never shed – They never get a dozen starts, And only gain their wings to spread Upon their change to adulthood – They change for once and change for good.
Maybe then they’re not rejected, Rather they are shiny new – Here displayed to be selected By the crawling grubs who queue – So they choose their new quintessence As they quit their adolescence.
Some are brighter, some are duller, Some are nippy, some enlarged – Pick a model, pick a colour, Carbon-framed and sugar-charged. Are you a grounded caterpillar ? You should check these stats – they’re killer !
A single clap, a sudden slap, A thud against a desk, A backhand swat, a black-red blot, A mid-air Arabesque. Someone let the flies in, Let the flies invade our day, And now we’re exercising An impromptu cabaret. So jump up to that buzzing sound, And waltz your tiny partners round – Until we run these flies to ground, This dance will play and play.
The accent is just intended to show that the middle syllable is the one that should be stressed.