By Ellen Kombiyil
Feature image: Spider Art by Ben Fredericson (xjrlokix)
“And beyond the empty cage, a bedroom; and beyond a bedroom, the wood boards,
beams, and floors holding the shape of the house; and beyond the house, a yard.”
—from Jorge Luis Borges’ mislaid manuscript, Labyrinthian Architectures,
a book that has been wished into existence
The day the tarantula escaped, my uncle
joked, “The cage is empty.” He said it over cornflakes—
the rock fallen off, the mesh lid mysteriously askew.
He smiled and slurped and chewed.
We searched behind the couch cushions, among
piano hammers’ knotted strings, in the broom closet
with its scary duster. (How many days had he let it out
for a walk—crossing the afghan’s colored squares
draped across the backrest?) At night I dreamt it crept
across the headboard as I slept, scuttled clacks,
each foot a seed-hard talon, spilled tacks.
Gramma finally found it when shaking the sheets out:
black and lacy it sailed through the air,
then scampered under the bookshelf where it hid
then disappeared beneath baseboards.
The walls breathe with it now,
acrid, not unlike the air outside the zoo’s tropical house,
toucans dripping guano black as the berries they ate.
I coax it with felled moths, pheromones
exuding from their bungled heads
after all night blinging the bulb’s sexless filament.
Or I stun lightning bugs with a mosquito-zapping racquet,
sweep twitching bodies near the crevice, where I expect
long fingers to sense their way out, scoop the offering
into its mouth. Or I want it gone,
to know it’s no longer fingering up the walls,
its carcass a dropped glove I’ll bury in the yard
beside a house quietly erupting,
cupboards sagging with china plates,
identity papers locked inside a fireproof safe,
the last will and testament, edited, crossed out,
signed in a wavering, unrecognizable hand
(the tarantula’s carapace slipping off,
where its abdomen once was), the bookshelves
collapsing, centipedes and their nymphs
thriving amid musty spines,
the loved and unread occupying the same space
inside their dead-wood frames.
The cage is empty—I bring home a mate
and watch it sleep under the heat lamp,
tap at the glass, hoping in the way
scent pervades all available space
I’ll find a way to live again
(grateful, tame) among the rocks.
Ellen Kombiyil is the author of Histories of the Future Perfect (2015) and a chapbook, Avalanche Tunnel (2016). Recent work appears or is forthcoming in DIALOGIST, The Moth, Muzzle, North American Review, and The Offing. She is a founder of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, a mentorship-model press that publishes emerging poets from India. A graduate of the University of Chicago and Hunter’s MFA program, she currently teaches creative writing at Hunter College.
Feature image: Image licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0