942: Very Large Moth

942: Very Large Moth

942: Very Large Moth

Today’s episode is guest hosted by Shira Erlichman.


I’m Shira Erlichman and this is The Slowdown.

In my twenties, traveling through California, I stayed with my friend Donka. Donka is a farmer, a surfer, a generous & easy soul who lent me their couch. One morning they loaded their truck with surfboards and told me to get in.

I had never surfed. In the water I felt like a guest. Donka bobbed beside me, dispensing advice. Soon they drifted toward a pack of veteran surfers and I was on my own. I dragged my board deeper into the surf, preparing to hop on and explore.

A slick, blue-black head popped out of the water. At first I thought it was an alien. Then, a scuba diver in a jet black hood. Then, a dog. In confused terror, I clumsily tried to hop on my board. Yet, a spark of sanity gripped my shoulders. It’s a sea lion, Shira. You may never get this moment again.

When I faced him, his eyes were curious. My fear dissolved into ecstasy. I was the alien. I was on his planet. Yet, he was not afraid of me. For a minute or a thousand years we gazed into each other. Drenched in his innocent gaze, stripped of persona, I was humbled to the bones. In a snap he ducked back into the abyss and was gone. Stunned, I shouted, “Donka!” but as they paddled over to me I lost all language. “Sea! Lion!” I managed, but it wasn’t enough to convey the spiritual slap of having felt somehow more myself and less of a self in the eyes of this sea God. Donka grinned, “I know! I see them all the time!”

Today’s poem teaches us that you can’t choose your holy moments. The poet, too, is a sudden citizen of bewilderment. When it comes time to express this kinship across species, he finds himself bereft.

Very Large Moth
by Craig Arnold

        After D.H.L.

Your first thought when the light snaps on and the black wings
                    clatter about the kitchen   	     is a bat

the clear part of  your mind considers rabies      	    the other part
                    does not consider   	    knows only to startle

and cower away from the slap of  its wings         though it is soon
                    clearly not a bat but a moth   	   and harmless

still you are shy of it   	     it clings to the hood of the stove
                    not black but brown            its orange eyes sparkle

like televisions   	    its leg  joints are large enough to count
                    how could you kill it            where would you hide the body

a creature so solid must have room for a soul
                    and if  this is so           why not in a creature

half  its size          or half its size again           and so on
                    down to the ants   	     clearly it must be saved

caught in a shopping bag and rushed to the front door
                    afraid to crush it   	    feeling the plastic rattle

loosened into the night air   	     it batters the porch light
                    throwing fitful shadows around the landing

That was a really big moth   	   is all you can say to the doorman
                    who has watched your whole performance with a smile

the half-compassion and half-horror we feel for the creatures
                    we want not to hurt            and prefer not to touch

"Very Large Moth" by Craig Arnold. Used by permission of the poet's estate.