We all agreed the merciful thing was to kill it.
Larvae growing out of its back like spines
and its head craning round to see what had become
of its body, what it had been replaced with.
I was the oldest, but it was Stephen I made
pry the caterpillar off the branch, and crush it,
and hope nothing would ever grow where it dropped.
I believed there were two magics in the world.
The one you got with prayer, or something
else, maybe, that worked every time but was forgotten—
and one you might cast in error,
with mirrors, or saying the wrong name in ignorance.
Go To Church, the sign said like a match
in the paranoid dark. Or The Devil Will Get You.
In our neighborhood there was one row of hedges
covered in webs, the sheets extending
deep in the bushes—but no other houses had webs.
Was it something the family inside had done?
Pale spiders moved secretly in the spade-shaped leaves.
We knew it couldn’t be true, what Aunt Lynne said
when we came home: that the same god
who tends the animals, looks after us too.
But we wondered. I thought for the first time
that all the magic in the world might be the same,
the communion wine and the wasp grubs tunneling.
Since that summer the woods have been
a terrible place. Strange galls hanging off the trees.
Chambers in the roots, only a magician
would dare stick an arm in, and yellow molds that move
in the cracks of logs even if you’re looking.
The sound in the distance is a woodpecker
tearing his world down. The smell is an autumn crop
of leaves fermenting like orange rinds in a bottle.
Shadows wear goats’ heads and staves between the branches.
Anything could happen, but doesn’t.