Isopod Nod

Woodlouse, “from Lankester’s Treatise on Zoology, after Sars”


Isopod Nod

Don’t blame the woodlice,
It’s not they who rot our skirting  –
Better they than flies or mice,
Whose numbers double in a twice,
Or roaches finding paradise
To go about their fruitful flirting.

If woodlice are abound,
Then yes, there’s something rotting –
But the woodlice are not plotting
How to spread the rot around.

So don’t blame the pillbugs
It’s not they who spread infection –
Better they than fleas or slugs,
Whose numbers lurk in cracks and rugs.
Or else mosquitos’ biting hugs
With who-knows-what in each injection.

If woodlice fill their jaws
Then yes, there’s something rotting
But the woodlice are just squatting –
They’re the symptom, not the cause.



The Queen of the Cockles

black seashell beside beige stone
Photo by Pixabay on


The Queen of the Cockles

Fine scallops and oysters
For townlands and cloisters,
And cockles and mussels – alive, sirs, alive !
Come find one and pluck it
From out of my bucket –
It’s yours for a penny – or fourpence for five.

…………Fresh from the beaches of fair Dublin Bay,
…………Fresh from the sands where they thrive, oh !
…………Fresh from the beaches, and fresh ev’ry day –
…………Cockles and mussels alive, alive-oh !

There’s no need to scrimp it
With whelk or with limpet –
I’ll sell you no snails, sir – I’m clams through and through.
Don’t ask me for sprinkles
Of peries or winkles –
Why settle for one shell, when you can have two !

…………Fresh from the wash of the fair Irish Sea,
…………Plucked-out as soon they arrive, oh !
…………Fresh from the sand to the boat to the quay –
…………Cockles and mussels alive, alive-oh !

There’s some who dig beaches
For lugworms and leaches,
But they make a slimy and wrigglesome catch.
And scampi and crab, sir,
Will scamper and jab, sir –
But mine are like eggs that are waiting to hatch !

…………Fresh from where seagulls love combing the sand,
…………Fresh from where cormorants dive, oh !
…………Fresh from Portmarnock and Dollymount Strand –
…………Cockles and mussels alive, alive-oh !

So what do you say, sir,
To venus or razor ?
Just tease-out my beauties with jack-knife or steam.
They may hold a pearl, sir,
A feast for your girl, sir,
You’ll soon warm her cockles with cockles in cream !

…………Fresh from the beaches of fair Dublin Bay,
…………Fresh for your ladies and wives, oh !
…………Fresh-in from Skerries and Claremont and Bray –
…………Cockles and mussels alive, alive-oh !



Butterfly Bushwacked

Buddleia davidii by unknown


Butterfly Bushwacked

Buddleia !  Buddleia !  Ev’rywhere, buddleia !
Growing in gardens too small to contain it.
Growing in wasteland and making it muddier –
Railways and quarries won’t even restrain it.
And then in July, see it all turn to violet
As thousands of flowers bring stamen and style.
Soon, we think, soon comes each painted-up pilot
To flitter and dazzle and make it worthwhile.
But here in the suburbs, with bushes amassing,
There’s plenty of purple, but no Blues in sight.
Just when did we last see a butterfly passing,
Aside from the moths and the odd Cabbage White ?
Here in the suburbs, these shrubs ramble well,
Yet we won’t see a Camberwell Beauty near Peckham,
Nor ravenous inchworms descending to wreck ’em !
So no Painted Lady, no Marbled and Tortoiseshell,
Won’t see an Argus, a Skipper or Admiral.
Monarchs and Emperors too have set sail,
So where the Fritillary ?  Wherefore the Swallowtale ?
Coppers and Brimstones have melted away,
Hairstreaks and Ringlets receded to grey,
The Gatekeeper’s keyless,
The Speckle Wood’s treeless,
And where are the Peacocks we avidly spy ?
Comma and Map and Wall,
Where do their larvae crawl ?
Where do their mothers all gravidly fly ?
Small Heath and Meadow Brown,
Not to be seen in town –
Naught but irruptions of davidii !
And soon it’s September, and blooming is ending,
And then they’re just weeds that need far too much tending.
Buddleia !  Buddleia !  Ev’rywhere, buddleia !
I tell you, the purple invasion is pending…



The Good Life

Carmelites in the Garden by Roger Guillemot


The Good Life

This abbey is the work of nuns,
Who sing her offices each day
Without a tenor in their range,
And in-between, they farm her grange:
They tend her pens and rabbit runs,
They milk her goats and rick her hay,
They gather greens and fatten veal,
Grow herbs to spice and herbs to heal.

They fish her trout and brew her ale,
They harvest cochineal from scale,
And tucked away in back-court sheds
Are pigeon-cotes and mushroom beds,
Her mulb’ry trees, that once was tried,
Still bloom – though all the silkworms died.
The snailery’s a better omen,
Raising broods of brown and Roman.

They see her fields are sown and scythed,
Her sheep are shorn, her orchards plucked,
They see her queens are safely hived,
Her cocks are henned and drakes are ducked.
They churn her cheese and bake her buns
Until their tender hands grow blisters –
What this abbey lacks in sons,
She made up for in sisters.



A Recipe for Iron Gall Ink

Oak Galls
Oak Galls by Roesel von Rosenhof


A Recipe for Iron Gall Ink

Welcome, brother, to my shed –
Brewing up the liquid words for countless books and scrolls,
Here is where we make the very thing that feeds our souls

First, we need the oak trees –
The abbey’s woods are growing us a thousand-fold or greater –
Pollarding is fine, and they can serve for timber later.

Next we need the gall wasps –
They lay their eggs within the buds, or else beneath the leaves –
Diff’rent wasps lay diff’rent eggs, but all are cunning thieves.

Wait – but not too long –
The oak responds by swelling apples where the larvae hide –
The better galls are small and dark, with maggots still inside.

But leave the largest one-in-ten –
We need those wasps to hatch, and grow, and drill, and crawl away –
And only then, they’re homes are gathered, when they’re lighter grey.

Next there comes the vitriol –
Seeping out of iron mines, collected and evaporated,
Iron scraps are added-in until its sharp is sated.

Then there comes gum arabic –
The bled-out gold acacia-sap is dried, and sold for quite a cost –
The abbey cannot grow them, though – they do not like our frost.

Pestle each ingredient –
Steep the galls in brandywine until it’s brown and dark,
Then slowly stir in vitriol to blacken-up the bark.

Now our secret: powdered eggshell !
This is what the other monks of other abbeys never gauge,
And this is why their manuscripts have eaten through the page –

Filter out the sediment –
First with cheesecloth, then with sponge – and drain into a drum,
Then add a little charcoal dust, and thicken with the gum.

Pour to airtight bottles –
And there you have it: ink aplenty, flowing over vellum –
Anything they need to know, our ink can surely tell ’em !

The blood of our society –
With which our brothers circulate all thoughts and laws with patient skill.
But better an ink brewer than a scribblers with a thirsty quill.



Mayfly Days



Mayfly Days

“Mayflies are unique among insects in having a penultimate ‘subimago’ stage, which like the adult has wings, but unlike the adult has no genitals.”
                                                                                                           Arthropod Quarterly Digest

All throughout each teenage year,
I spend my evenings by the brook –
In Spring I love to dawdle here
To watch the ducks or read a book.
I sometimes bring some fishing gear,
Though rarely bother with a hook.
My friends pair-off in woods or laybys,
I, though, spend my time with mayflies.

We are a lot alike, Ephemeroptera.
We spent our childhoods trapped within backwater gloom,
Just waiting for that feeling that it’s time to bloom –
But when we shed our skins and gain our wings,
What did we find, Ephemeroptera ?
Our flight is drunken and unsteady,
Bodies new are strange and heady,
Maybe we are not so ready yet,
To put away our childhood things.
But on it comes: from nymph to fly –
To moult, to mate, to lay our eggs, and die.

We’re subimago adolescents,
Buzzing with a shared frustration,
Trapped within the boring present
Waiting for our next gestation –
Damn, the urge is so incessant,
Yet we cannot reach elation !
Metamorphosis, you cheat,
We’re naiads still and incomplete !

I know a lot about Ephemeroptera,
These One-Day Wings that flit and dart about the creek.
I spend my teenage evenings watching, week by week,
While all the while, my classmates grow up too.
I ought to leave, Ephemeroptera,
I ought to leave, but I’m afraid:
I still do not feel fully made.
And so I watch you rise and fade,
And wonder when my final moult is due.
Will I change soon, oh Flies of May ?,
To start the years that form my final day.



To expand on the quotation in the epigraph, mayflies are primitive insects that have changed far less than those restless ants and beetles.  They show little difference between nymph and adult (well, except that the former lives in water and has no wings), and most bizarrely they have two consecutive flying stages.  If you see any other insect with wings, then it is an adult and will never shed it’s exoskeleton or pupate again.  Perhaps those giant early griffinflies of the Permian also had two (or more) instars on the wing – they were after all comtemporaries of the first mayflies.  Or perhaps it’s a later mutation that avoids having to build both wings and genitls in one hit without the benefit of a lengthy pupation.

Anyway, when it is time, the nymph pulls itself out of the water either onto the water tension of the surface, or up some vegetation stalks.  There it rests, moults, and dries its cloudy new wings – these already contain the adult wings within them which are revealed when that cloudy layer is shed.  In a few species, the females stop here and never make the final moult, while in others the females can survive for a couple of weeks – long enough for their already-getated eggs to hatch the moment she lays them on the water surface, so in terms of the poem calling them ‘one-day wings’ might be a little disengenuous, but hell, it’s too good a line to drop.  A friend also suggested that I had my metaphor the wrong waya bout – teenagers aren’t subimagos because they do have the hormones, they just don’t have the transport.