David B. Prather

Orchid Mantis

—Hymenopus coronatus

Every part petal, a moth orchid
             fallen to pieces, then put back together

as a hunter that can grab a victim
             so fast there is no suspecting
what is coming, or what comes after.

             How limited this camouflage,
blending in with blossom, the smallest

             beauty of this world. I fully expect
an afterlife where everyone I know
             blooms. I will be a gladiolus

reconfigured as a flick, a flutter,
             a fascination on the wing.

Or I will take my form from an iris,
             a poor man’s orchid, let my body
shimmy with breeze, lure my prey

             on the wind. If only I could be so
exquisite, a bird of paradise flown

             from its stem and perched above,
adverb of angels and celestial realms.
             Which is how I see this creature,

seemingly constructed from what has been
             discarded. Imagine what could rise

from what we no longer need,
             hide even where we look,
even when we must turn away, wary.

Garden Spider

                         —Argiope aurantia

The garden is full of saplings and fledglings
of starlings, which complain in the limbs,
along the fence where they keen their bills

to sharpness. This morning I walk
among the trees and through the threads
a garden spider stitched between them.

I’ve broken part of this world,
left a fissure that will need repair. I quake
with the thought that I have pulled the spinneret

body onto my own, the yellow, black, and white
abdomen, those eight legs held still in pairs
to look like an X suspended with blooms

that attract the busy wings of prey.
I’ve always been afraid. Which is why
I jitterbug after I’ve blundered through

a web. It’s a sensation of stepping beyond
a barrier directly into an afterlife.
I will need a broom, one of those old whisks

of straw, each piece held in place by twine
and clasped to a wooden handle. It will
remind me of my mother, my grandmother,

my great grandmother who chased varmints
out of vegetable patches, knocked wasps
out of the air, swept ants up with dust.

I check my shoulders, twist my arms
up my back, shake out any fear that might be
crawling in my hair. By tomorrow morning,

there will be another lyre of silk
for the breeze to pluck between the leaves.
And she may be waiting upon those strings

listening to the music, uncaught, passing
through. And starlings will tuck the last
vestiges of night into their ruffled feathers.

After Vietnam, April 1975

Youth was a series of injuries—a bee sting,
a bruise, a splinter, a tumble-and-scrape.

The scabs of memory heal. I was a boy

standing on my grandmother’s front porch,
then tripping down the stairs as my father

reappeared, dawn clinging to his shoulders.

He swung me up into his arms, and also
my sister. Our eyes were floods. Our lungs

were fluttering wings. I thought I could fly

by leaping into the air with my arms outstretched.
But the world wouldn’t let go. That evening,

my grandmother fried chicken and potatoes,

boiled beans and carrots, baked bread and pies.
Everyone was home. I never thought about sadness,

a shadowy creature that settles in

and lives within the chambers of our hearts.
I didn’t know when one war ends, another begins.

David B. Prather is the author of We Were Birds (Main Street Rag Publishing, 2019), and he has two forthcoming poetry collections: Bending Light with Bare Hands (Fernwood Press) and Shouting at an Empty House (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions). He work has appeared in many journals, including Prairie Schooner, The Comstock Review, About Place Journal, etc. He lives in Parkersburg, WV.