ryan quinn flanagan | tent caterpillars

Tent Caterpillars

Every summer
there was a nest.

In the same slender birch tree
by the sandbox
in the backyard
at 43 Bernick

And every year
my father would fold
newspaper into a cone
light the end of it
with his butane lighter
and stick it into
the nest.

The nest was white
and sticky
and singed and came apart
real easy.

My mother stood in the doorway
hand over mouth,
afraid to come out
lest the angry caterpillars
come get

It’s like she thought the tent caterpillars
could somehow divine
that it was all her idea,
that she had been on my father
for weeks
to get rid of that damn nest,
and now that the deed was being done
they would look for revenge;
climb up her legs and into her cunt
and lay eggs
or some such horror.

it never took long
for the tent caterpillars
to fall from the nest
to the ground
on fire.

My job was to step on them
once they fell:

Hurry get those ones there, near the fence, dammit,
don’t let those buggers get away!

My father was an angry man.
He felt trapped by work, by marriage,
by kids, by life…
and felt that if he could not get away
from what was devouring him,
then no one should be allowed
to get away.

Quick, squash those ones by the patio,
don’t let them crawl under the patio.

For my part,
I was not a very good

For one thing,
I could identify with the tent caterpillars
more than I could my
They were small, and slow,
and made to suffer
for the fears and insecurities
of others.
I too was made to suffer,
though the methods varied.
Our tormentor was the same, though;
an angry man with much hollering
and flaring of nostril.

And I felt bad for the tent caterpillars –
for their hairy insect
pain –
but what could I do,
I was only 7 years

I pretended to stomp on them,
but really
I was just stomping on grass,
careful not to kill any of my hairy insect

Then I would stand in silence
as more and more of them
plunged to their death.

They were jumping out of the nest
like people out of burning buildings,
I was certain
of it.


One time
I ran to the sandbox
and grabbed my toy fire engine
but it didn’t help.

And I turned away
from the raging inferno
as my father raged higher
and higher.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.