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  • Still Life with Paper Wasp Nest and Lava Flow, and: Adansonia digitata (Baobab)
  • Sandra Meek (bio)

Still Life with Paper Wasp Nest and Lava Flow

Paper chalice a wasp worries to the heart        of the patio junk-sculpture dog’s    metal pipe torso: Thurston’s lava tube

in miniature, refuge the long night        against which children are issued    soft caps, weak flashlights embedded

Cyclopsian at the third eye, hands free for        the inevitable stumbling. A lost century’s    souvenir seekers snapped that tunnel’s

every last stalactite. Only feathery tree roots        surviving discovery, dangling still from a ceiling    buried beneath rainforest tree ferns swallowed

by the near-petrified froth of a pāhoehoe flow        glistening like wing feathers of starlings, younger    by decades than the black-pearl handprints of oil

a seventy-years-sunken battleship still snakes to a harbor’s        monument-shadowed wake. The iridescent    jag of lava I stole from that flow less

to possess its dark gleam than to be free        any moment to relive that moment’s possessing    that beautifully cooled fire not someone

else’s history. Whatever’s been pressed        to our foreheads casts only the faintest    echo of light to the nearest cave wall

as a wash of strained gold weaker than oncoming        headlights flashed from the eyes of a small    wild creature you recognize but [End Page 40]

can’t name: our father’s cigarette in the living        room’s night kindling to a dying star    the bourbon you’d know without seeing

his other hand held. Childhood we’d like to remember        as a distant reef of incandescent ash    bubbled with air solely to recall flight

as the luminous globes of whorled rainbows        your own slight breath made rise from your fist’s    plastic wand, not as what broke to blister

the concrete steps you’d been banished to. That castle of spit        and rain, could you see it from there, the nest’s    temple lantern pressed not from rice but

vanished leaves? One’s browning heart a wasp pierces        even now, eating through to clouded sun—    passage the mouth of a fresh cigarette burn, the caldera

distanced by binoculars’ glass I awkwardly        reversed: the day-pillar of smoke held to a wisp    indistinguishable from steam rising from vents

furred with spidery ferns shading to a deep emerald cluster        of ‘ōhI‘a trees. Bruised eye of an ethereal    circling: what memory reforms until there

is no boundary between vapor’s rising and the low clouds’        descent. The narrative of steam, one story of family—    whatever’s caught of the rain, the gashed earth aspires

to return as that loss. Paper wasps driven to nest        any near hollow. The architecture of home    begins as simply chambered as origami fortune-tellers

grade-school girls fashion from notebook-torn sheets        folded and held to the seeker like unbudded    nosegays: four penciled directions to believe [End Page 41]

in horizon, one tucked beneath each paper flap, each hastily        crafted cradle temporal as the thinnest    bible paper, the tiniest umbrellas perching

the sweet drinks we’ve grown to favor midlife—our father, elderly        now, gingerly sipping wine beneath a courtyard bar’s    spreading banyan tree, having long found God and lost

his taste for whiskey. What best remember of that afternoon’s        cooled flow? The braided lava’s silvered    opalescence, or how you left him unsteady

at the asphalt path’s end as we ventured out        as we once would onto a lake’s pocked    and pebbled ice to skate the most deeply

scarred winter? That field of new stone a crust        fragile as blown-glass Christmas tree ornaments,    weightless as a drift of black wasp wings swept gleaming

to this one last corner of his world; the void’s        intricate weaving invisible from surface’s sheen,    that shimmering breadth of pored stone: how

it held you. How he waved, looking on. [End Page 42]

Adansonia digitata (Baobab)

Letaba Camp, Kruger National Park, South Africa

Weightless as the heart that shelving driedto a fraction, your fruits’ chalky remainsare fanned with copper threads, frayed veinsdesiccated as those ponderedthrough decades of Elephant Hall glass to a glazedtissue of dust. Digitata, for the hand; digitigrade...


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