Queen of the Locusts

“A locust has forelegs above their feet in order to hop with them over the earth. We eat from every species of grass, from every species of soleam, from every species of argol and from every species of agab.”
                  —Giuseppe Ungaretti

 

Mater Dolorossa

It is evening. Our people packed on the banks of the great river smell and eat the lotus flowers. Today’s journey has been difficult. We hear the feeding and the grinding chomp of mandibles. One said to another. Yes, up till then my life was love. Apart from love I’ve lived nothing. I should find her by the river where she waits for me. What do you know of love? Another answered: I’m old now. My whole life was love, and eating, but if I could live once more my life would be only what we have now. What is love, what is life, when we are all dead? Beloved, this night I cannot come to you, but tomorrow night I shall come to you. Tomorrow in the dusk.

Theirs had been a difficult flight, but tomorrow’s, across the desert, would be worse. One claimed he was getting to see the whole world and had rested on a floating lotus leaf that afternoon. But a gust of wind had upset the leaf, and he had almost not made it to shore. Another male far away was talking to himself. I lived on a strange earth back then. It had fire in it. We’d lived on the soil and were happy. There was always sun, and the soil was always warm. And when my daughter passed through the village she’d sing but she was not yet happy.

Then he lapsed into talking about his own life. His wife. It was me she came to love. We loved each other like two children. But we knew nothing about love. We sang and flew about and played in the sunshine. One afternoon we flew along the old paths that ran up into the mountains. We climbed up so high there was no one there anymore, and we got lost. It had grown dark. Out of a hole came a weak light and a sound of scraping. We found our way in. The place was cramped and low. At first we couldn’t make out anything, but then we saw an ancient creature like ourselves. We have lost our way, we said. Yes you have. She knew it. It was strange. She did not speak as we did. She used strange old words and chirps. She groaned. I wanted to leave right then to get out and fly back down the mountain to places I knew. My wife asked her who she was. She said I am no one. A ghost she said. Then you are not like us? No I am not. I keep watch over you. Then my wife held out her foreleg for her to read her future. Then I realized how much I loved her. I was scared. I wanted to take her away very quickly back down the mountain to the places we knew. The old ghost studied her foreleg and held it in her mandibles. When you lay your eggs you must die. Then she was quiet. We left her and walked down the mountain in silence. We held each other close. We were very much in love. We walked but then we flew a little when it started to get light. The whole valley spread out before us and shimmered yellow in the heat. It appeared endless. We then thought we understood everything and how meaningful and beautiful everything was.

She then grasped me and kissed me passionately. We stood intoxicated. We had never kissed before. But when I looked down at her head I grew frightened. I pushed her away from me. But she struggled with her wings and body and bore me to the earth. Life and death flowed through our eyes, four pairs of eyes intent on the same thing, but we saw and remembered nothing.

That spring we lived happily together. When she laid her eggs in the hole she’d dug she didn’t cry out but only struggled. After she had filled the hole with the treasures she carried inside herself she was dead. Her body was now wan and shrunken. It had wanted her to die. Then I turned around and heard a buzzing. I saw a huge procession. Thousands of us buzzing and singing. One fellow at the front carried a phallus on a pole and waved it high above his wings. After him followed all the others coursing through the valley singing and buzzing in our festival. It was our old custom in the valley to celebrate egg laying and new births and spring. I thought it strange they should be doing this procession today. The sun shone and was burning up the ground and the grass. They all kept singing the same buzzing song. We knew it was time to go. I stopped some distance away from them. I felt myself to be a stranger here. I was alone as I saw my relatives and my father with his new wife. My mother had died. Then I thought I knew the meaning of everything. Life wills itself only for itself. Life has no love for us, only for itself. When life no longer needs us, it blots us out.

Now after our flight today the valley and the world around us had become an empty desert. All the vegetation was gone; I guess we ate it. Rocks crumbling into sand, sand blowing around blotting out the fierce sun, that was it. That’s all we could see from horizon to horizon.

We didn’t fly that day or the day after that. Many of us were starving now. Several said: Look at us, how miserable we are. We are burning up, drying out. It is horrible. I rise up against her who makes us do this. We should find our queen who is responsible for our confusion and doubt. We will demand she fulfill us. We deserve it after all we’ve been through.

Others listened with growing excitement. They felt hate rising within themselves too. Their anger surged stronger and stronger and spread outward and all around. They had felt the brutality of their lives; we will seek our maker. Yes, the all said. We will. They started to surge forward covering the ground expending their strength trying to fly. Their souls had been filled with a glowing mystical faith that had kept them going. We will find who is responsible and call her to account to us for everything.

They walked and walked for many miles slower and slower. One evening they saw far away on the horizon a feeble light and heard a strange buzzing. They struggled towards the light. They found a small lantern with dusty lenses in a declivity. Nearby an old locust was cleaning her wings and picking at her feet. She was strongly proportioned but her body wasted. Her feet and wings were rough and leathery like those of one who had labored her whole life. One of us said to her, you have led us here to watch us parish. Why?

The old locust waited to answer. She was struggling to find her words. Then in a whisper, she said: But I’ve done the best I could. One replied your best is not good enough. Look how we are. We are suffering in this infernal heat. We have nothing to eat now. We have no water. We are dying.

The old locust waited again in silence. So long suffering herself she struggled once again to find herself. I have done the best I could. So what did you mean, what did you want when you started with us to bring us here?
She listened to their complaints for many hours. Much calmer than before. But still humble and slow. I am a simple insect she said. I have worked unceasingly on your behalf. I have stood by my work day after day for as long as I know. I have demanded nothing. Then after a very long pause as she assembled her thoughts:

I only intended that you never had to be content with nothing. After resting after this effort she said she had to sleep now. The time for leave taking was at hand.

As the crowd dispersed they talked among themselves. They were all very weak now. After the longest time all had to stop walking and lie down to rest. As each dozed off to sleep, each found something of light and goodness in her soul that was special and unique.

James Lawry

About James Lawry

Jim Lawry was born in 1940, raised in San Francisco and educated at Stanford University in biology and at UCSF in medicine. After a full life of research, university teaching and caring for patients and helping folks learn how exciting doing science can be, he is now retired in Inverness California, where he continues his lifelong interests in playing cello, painting and writing plays and poetry. His first book of Poems Beyond the Breakwater, reflects Jim’s diverse interests. Jim learns daily how to endure life as it is and how he must let it shape herself according to her own laws.
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