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Fall 2015

Mantis

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1.

What in the name of anything on earth was I doing crawling behind a billboard next to a bakery
a few blocks from the grammar school I attended then which recently made it into the news
because drug dealers killed some teenagers there three boys and a girl making them kneel by a wall
I realized must be the one in the field where we used to have gym class and gunning them down

2.

Beneath the billboard seethed eons of trash rotted food shit human or dog who knows what else
except I knew what else as soon as I saw it a praying mantis four five maybe more inches long
on a swaying weed not a foot from my face an appalling contrivance I’d never seen even a picture of
but with its swiveling ball-bearing head and opaque expressionless eyes I knew wanted to harm me

3.

Gunning them down What would our kindly teachers hands white with chalk dust have thought?
Our violence was games like dodge ball or its other name when we played it inside bombardment
the bigger kids blasting balls off the backs of the smaller with much groaning and feigned cries of pain
Gunning them down the mind skids from reason to cause cause to reason but nothing coheres

4.

The female mantis bites the head off then devours its male after they couple which means fuck
I guessed when I looked up in the Book of Knowledge the monster with which I’d had my run in
Though the text claimed they were harmless I still believed the malevolent creature gazing at me
those fore-claws barbed like a lumberjack’s saw had been gathering the rest of itself to attack

5.

What’s there now I wonder would the bakery still be and the billboard though what was a billboard
doing anyway at the very edge of our city what would it have been hawking soap cigarettes cars?
In memory those were the days before everything was for sale before buying and selling became all
but maybe I’m wrong maybe I just don’t remember there’s so much I’ve managed not to remember

6.

I haven’t seen a mantis for a long time but if I met one I wouldn’t be frightened of it but for it
so fragile they look so brittle their ill fitting parts fastened together like bi-planes from the first world war
When I’d escaped mine that day I headed home taking as you still could in those pre-heroin years
a short-cut through the school yard where kids were playing hide and seek behind that same wall



—C. K. Williams



C. K. Williams, who began appearing in The Threepenny Review in 1992, was the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, including Flesh and Blood, Repair, Writers Writing Dying, and Misgivings. He died on September 20, 2015, just as his Selected Later Poems was about to appear.

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