—title inspired by Patricia Fargnoli’s
“The Phenomenology of Garbage”
by Karen George
Winner, Slippery Elm Prize in Poetry
As when I open the door of my writing retreat room, a wasp
in the dim-lit hall limps toward me. I almost step on its red-brown
body, mistake it for a knot in the worn oak floor. I lean close,
drawn by its caution-yellow ringed abdomen—a stinger nestled
in its tip. The beginning of December, I expect wasps dead,
or hibernated. It drags its ragged self on long, slender legs.
Male workers die with cold weather, but queens seek a snug site
inside, lapse into diapause until spring, emerge to forge a new colony.
With a piece of paper, I scoop her up, to place where floor joins
wall. I think of Mom, every week more silent, unable to stand
or walk on her own. I don’t know that in thirty days a pandemic
will begin, and in four months, she will die. The weightless
wasp tilts away, or did my breath cause the motion?
Its smoke-dark wings are veined like stained-glass windows.