The Mantis

by Mark Mansfield 

Dropped off by Dad, each summer, we’d explore
the wash house where she kept her jars. Marooned
miles from nowhere, we patrolled screen doors,
oven-hot shingle walls, or the cool of the porch
swing, shaded by trellis and vine, launching attacks
on grasshoppers, closed tightly as cocoons.

Oozing their sticky brown tobacco back
until it stained our fingers, quickly doomed,
they kicked their legs’ serrated prongs to jack
free, while one unscrewed and another packed
them down, ignoring the fact we had just destroyed
blue-ribbon preserves to grant orthopterans tombs.

We sprayed the lids with airholes. Usually Roy
with an ice pick or his dweeb Swiss knife would soon
stab while they thumped like popcorn, cloying
the steamed-up glass. Ravenous, we’d deploy
back inside for “Zorro,” ice cream, and pie,
while her jars sat, then burst in the heat of noon.

Much quicker on their wings were fireflies.
Seeming as if we were trying to trap the gloom
of dusk, our tight-cupped hands would glow, the rising
moon watching as we nabbed her puckish prize.
The girls freed them. We’d stall, then clap, killing
if only to prove a point not yet presumed.

Then some days, a mantis would appear,
half builder’s crane, half flytrap, she’d perch
on the chain-link fence or the birdbath’s rim. Held still
in prayer, her forelimbs scarcely leaned on a sill
of air until her green jaws suddenly yawned.
I kept my distance (having seen her lurch).

She was the one thing I would not go near,
not like the rest, whose lives we snuffed at will—
kneel, I did, though not like her, from fear
whenever she came, to pray on our grandmom’s lawn.

Mark Mansfield’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Adirondack Review, Bayou, Blue Mesa Review, The Evansville Review, Fourteen Hills, Gargoyle, Good Foot, The Ledge, Magma, Salt Hill, Tulane Review and Unsplendid. He holds an M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins. Currently, he lives in upstate New York where he teaches.

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