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Michael Fournier
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Work-in-Progress
 

I am always shocked to see a praying mantis in profile, nervelessly supplicating the
empty air before it. It’s as if I’m catching one sleeping. Which in a way I am, because it
does not know I am here. Eventually, it will, and it will turn to me, and I will hear its
prayer. I hear every prayer of every insect in my midst, but none is so loud as the prayer
the mantis prays in its brief life. The termite, which lives to fifty years of age, is very
quiet indeed. But the termite prays to me out of great fear. The mantis prays from deep
love. My presence is the highest joy a mantis can attain, and it would abstain from
sustenance if sustenance would prove some distraction from me. Mantises hunt only to
praise me by a show of hunting. They present me with their kill, lining up flies in careful
rows. The flies do not pray to me. Why should they? They know I hate them.

Mosquitoes love me, but would have my blood. I do not hate them, but neither will I
suffer them. Certainly, they pray as they can, an amorphous zizzing. But their prayers
articulate nothing, and this I cannot abide. I slap at them. (I do not slap at wasps.) I crush
them. I muster implements of destruction against them. I assail them with noxious
fumes, and yet they love me.

Wasps are highly industrious, and this pleases me. We enjoy a mutual respect. The wasps
don’t bother me, and I don’t bother the wasps. While they do not pray to me directly, I
understand that they refer to me often. I enjoy the notion that I must occasionally be
described, and the surmise that certain mentions of me place me within some established
context of one kind or another. Ultimately, I harbor the wasps no ill-will for their cold
shoulders, but rather, I rejoice that they are my evangelicals, spreading my name around
like papier-mache. You cannot, after all, ignore a wasp. A wasp is the perfect flack. A
wasp can turn anything’s head. Except a bee’s.

Whereas praying mantis will fiddle with its mitts as it conceives its hymn to my glory,
the bumblebees never do any such thing. They will hover before me. I cannot make out
their eyes, but I feel the distinct energy of their vision upon me. I am being seen. They
hover before me, gazing upon me, and they give forth a hum as low and steady as the
celestial clockwork it is my task daily to wind for them. (I do not, of course, do this at all,
much less for them, but they believe I do, and I try to conduct myself accordingly.)
They hover so steadily as to almost stop time, and I have learned to catch random shards
of light that disclose their frozen wings tearing into empty space.

The bees become lost in me completely (for the one is witness of the hive), and none of
these who is lost in me is any kind of convert, but has known nothing but the faith. I do
not hear them as I hear the others. I simply hear them. They are honest, and have no
subtlety about them. Subtlety eludes them. (Just look at them.) They sing in a greater
peace, yet with a greater passion, than any other ephemera I can dream of. They astonish
me.

Yet when I see the mantis tilt its head in such a way that even I am not certain that I did
not blink, I know I’m in the presence of a question. And it isn’t a question as to
provenance of my authority. It’s more like the question of a child: what makes the sky
blue, and why do they call it spring, that sort of thing. I am to the mantis like a father to
his brood. To the wasps, well, I’m simply the one they believe owns the company. I
seem to profit from their labor. If I did not, they would have no reason. None
whatsoever. They would swarm, and I’m told that that is quite something to see. I
imagine that after swarming they would feel shame at having swarmed. But since they
know I would forgive them, why court shame? Always thinking, these wasps. I have no
issue with them. Nor do they with me.

Earthworms are very shy. They simply do not know if they are fit to worship me, poor
souls. If they had feet, there would be shoes upon them, and they would dig the toes into
the ground. If they had upper lips, they would chew them, and if they had eyes, their
eyes would be cast down upon their shoes burrowing into earth. They are not bugs yet.
They do not have faith enough to transcend simple bashfulness. They fascinate me, for
when I cut them, do they not persist, yea, and multiply? Even this miracle garners no
thanks from them. Still, I go about with scissors, enlarging their numbers whenever the
opportunity presents itself. Perhaps one of these that I have parted from another will rise
up and . . . what? I wonder. Moan of my splendor, perhaps? Or maybe like the spiders
find the path to praise in silence.

Like the mantises, the spiders hold a special place in my esteem. And like the wasp, they
have a fine work ethic. Unlike the wasps, the spiders are artists. They articulate a
complete vision within a context of so few as three specific points in space. A wasp sees
an eave, a nearby tree, and a rain-gutter, but observes no possibility of creation between
them. The spider, on the other hand, begins to use them for scaffolding, and
contemplates its idea of me with intense logical rigor.

The butterflies detest comparison with moths. They pray to me: “Confuse us not with the
split-wings. Observe the grace of our flight.” This, from the only insect I have ever seen
fall down an entire flight of stairs.

The moths, likewise, detest the comparison when they find no light in which to fly. They
grow lost in a happy dream of me, and dreams are shadows, the largest of which are cast
by those who wander closest to the light, which consumes them. The moths dance in an
honest worship of me. I cannot dislike them.

A word about the cockroaches. Their antennae probe the air constantly for some evidence
of me, yeeking their inchoate prayers at me. They forage in desperate earnest for
sacrificial viands to yield up unto my splendor, but their exertions are so plentiful and
energetic that they are famished by the time they encounter anything edible, and they eat.
They eat, and then scramble guiltily for something else to give me, pausing only to
perpetrate their kind and multiply, that in greater force they might seek some suitable
offering whereby to secure my continued bounty. Best give the fools nothing.

Only the praying mantis appears to consider me, and to weigh the possibility of me, and
so to exist in a state of happy wonder. In the mantis I find this sort of devotion riveting,
so much so that one afternoon I permitted an adept on which I’d had my eye to attain a
fleeting oneness with my essence, a curious moment for me and a confounding one for
the mantis. After all, they cannot blink. It sprang away at once thereafter, and I cannot
say what became of it. I am told that I have wondered aloud about this more than once.

The female praying mantis decapitates the male after mating. It has often occurred to me
that I should learn to distinguish the female of the species from the male. To do so,
however, would likely tarnish my divine credibility among the attentive mantises. How
would I maintain requisite inscrutability knowing, for example, that a male is beseeching
of me that which secures his demise? Not that I would do a damn thing about it either
way, were I able. I certainly do not hold myself above nature. If a male praying mantis
wants to throw his world into the shitter for a slap and a tickle . . . well, I understand
him. But it is not my place to understand, at least not entirely. Suppose that the praying
mantis in question were a female, feasting upon my presence with an attenuated passion,
an unyielding ectasy, wishing fervently to be vouchsafed a man in her life. I could never
regard such knowledge with indifference. I am, after all, human. I find a dead palmetto
bug sprawled upside down in the toilet as spiritually depleting as the next man, even in
the full awareness of its erstwhile adoration of me. I am god, muse, and (theoretically)
collective consciousness to the bugs, but ultimately, I wish to know nothing of their
inner lives apart from their devotion to me. Their boundless, unbidden love.

Crickets. They are the psalmists among my flock. Many confuse them with cockroaches,
and this, to me, is an unthinkable state of affairs. Cockroaches resemble nothing but their
own desperate selves, whereas crickets are shapely as cellos. Once you have been out in
a field on a summer night, gazing up at the stars, you know about the crickets. They are
the voices of the stars. What better symphony than a field of crickets? When the crickets
pray to me., when they sing, when they open their minds and raise vast harmonies in the
ecstasy of my splendor, when the stars beat like distant hearts to their music, when they
reach the core of me in this way, I know I have done quite well as a divnity. Birds are
fond of them.

Boundlessly pleased as I am that the crickets help me find myself with their
music, I am pleased as well that the birds eat them, for the birds also make lovely
music. It is only a matter of time before the birds come around to the realization that
when they eat crickets they are partaking in a beautiful sacrament. They will know
gratitude, and seek to direct it. The crickets will show them the way, and the birds will
sing for me. They sing now, but they do not yet know they sing for me. What joy for
them when they do!

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