Darwin and the Wasp – A Sceptic’s Sestina
Ichneumonidae, hymenoptera: leaded-glass
wings, inkblot thorax bruised with words
of doubt. A tract that no religious man –
when Paley’s prose dictates there is a God –
would ever read aloud, or dare to whisper.
It looks out, alive, through warm amoral eyes.
Darwin, beard of moths and fossil eyes,
sips chai tea from a crystal glass.
Pushing along his pen’s soft whisper
he sows his page with words.
The summer air’s abuzz with breath of God.
The garden is a world to such a man.
And so it is that such a man
should see among the shrubs, with pious eyes,
the ichneumon wasp – the scythe-tailed God
and Reaper to the worms. He drains his glass,
and kneels before the plants. He finds no words
he comprehends within its sinner’s whisper;
his heartbeat trills a devil’s whisper.
He reaches out a hand, like a beaten man.
The ichneumon alights; he’s lost for words.
Its legs are bars around his wedding ring. “I…”
He stops, confused. He overturns his glass
to trap the wasp, observing like a god.
“…I know not what good-hearted God
would work to this design,” he whispers.
A straining larva lies outside the glass
and with cruellest curiosity of Man
he pushes it beneath, with narrowed eyes.
He scribbles something – incoherent words –
and the wasp translates these words
to wings, swaps death for life – a swindler god –
sets upon its life-warm host with hard maternal eye –
abdomen throbbing, legs a warning whisper –
packs the flesh with eager eggs, paralysing man
and worm. Its body’s a syringe of black glass.
A cynic’s eye outside the crystal glass
blinks out, fatal, “there is no God but Man” –
irrevocable words – a new wasp’s foetal whisper.
Camille Ralphs is currently a second-year student at Lancaster University, reading English Literature with Creative Writing. She has previously been published in The Crocodile and in Durham’s Inkapture e-magazine.