My hands were knuckle-deep in earth
when I learned what I learned
and would never forget. This,
my tenth summer, saw fingernails
adopt muddy crescents in search
of something to collect, something
to displace and place in a preferable space
made of dirt, twig and aquarium.
The air was rich, my nose
plucking lilac, niter, and pine sap
from evening breezes blown in from Paradise,
plucking scents as easily as my
soil-stained fingers found their spherical quarry.
Each time I’d move the right handful
they’d be waiting there,
like chalk across September slate,
rolled into yogic protection.
With a touch inexplicably delicate
I would airlift each between my fingers,
from soil to jar, from jar to tank,
their cannonballs landing gently
in my Neighborhood Pill Bug Refuge.
I would watch them with an entomologist’s eyes,
intrigued by how leaves and pebbles
participated in a pill bug’s ecosystem,
their gridelin-hued populace
putting that of the Ant Farm to shame.
All summer I observed, and unknowingly
learned, their introspective reflex,
the roll-when-threatened instinct
that would guide my eyes inward
when childhood would shatter
like plates against walls
one lengthy hallway down.
I couldn’t smell the rain coming.
It billowed on the horizon,
conquistadors on horseback,
but my ten years weren’t enough
to pinpoint its significance.
It was only later,
maybe even days later,
that I realized what forgetting costs,
my hands, like God’s, knuckle-deep
in mud and devastation,
a hundred tiny forms
floating like lost beachballs,
their eyes turned desperately inward
to find a means of survival.