A Feast for Mosquitoes
I love the mountains: the Blue Ridge,
the Great Smokies with their dim charcoal halos,
the aspen-crowned Rockies.
At those altitudes, I am one of the few
who breathes more easily,
relieved of the fear of insects,
arms and legs bared to the cold, clear air.
When I was three years old,
I spent a month at Children’s Mercy:
sepsis from an infected mosquito bite.
I had to endure shots thrice daily;
but even at that age, I paid attention
to what preceded the pain.
I learned the rounds, and one day,
when I knew the doctor and his hypodermic
were imminent, I locked myself in the bathroom.
I was afraid of the dark, and too small
to reach the light switch,
but I refused to come out.
A janitor was summoned with a master key.
It took three nurses to drag me back
to the bed and hold me down.
As I struggled, my grandfather’s face appeared
above me, locked in a grim acceptance.
It was the same look he got whenever
he dug splinters out from under my skin
with his pocketknife, or that time
I stepped in broken glass and left a trail
of bloody footprints up 21st.
All my life, people have joked
that my blood must be sweet,
and it’s true that mosquitoes
have discriminating taste.
The moment I step out-of-doors,
a brown cloud descends,
necessitating long sleeves and jeans
despite the heat.
Once, just walking
to the next-door neighbor’s house,
I garnered eighteen bites.
Once, I wore sandals
for an evening stroll,
and my feet were so ravaged,
I couldn’t wear shoes for a week.
Every year, I wonder if my body
has changed enough for them
to move on, and every spring,
I get my answer in the form
of itchy red welts.
But I get some of my own back:
keeping cans of foul aerosols,
putting up bat houses,
releasing spiders into the garden,
and lighting fat, pungent pillars of citronella
while offering a prayer to whatever patron saint
delivers us from bloodsuckers.
Mosquito Festival -- Remedios Varo