Clayton Eshleman: The Left Foot of King Ramesses I

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 1:46 PM
resembles a long semi-flat black fish.
The toes caterpillar forth,
five black tent caterpillars on their way to a cherry tree feast.
From the tips of their abdomens they secrete pheromones
so that their relatives, detecting these chemical signals,
can also stream down the trail!

From Permian times onward, tent caterpillars have had no god.

When they reach a leaf patch at the end of a branch, they snuggle side by side, humming and feeding in unison along the margin of a young leaf.

Many a tentstead is torn and littered by the shrunken cadavers of larvae killed by braconid wasps.

Having detected the buzz of a tachnid’s wings, a tent larva swings its body from side to side in a kind of samba, creating a moving target, befuddling the attacker.

Fully formed tent caterpillars chew their way out of eggs in sync with their host tree’s bursting buds.

They happily cooperate in many interactive tasks: leaf-shelter building, communal basking and mat spinning, anti-predator group displays, trail laying, recruitment to food and basking sites.

Tent caterpillars are at the pinnacle of caterpillar social evolution and should never be dissed as “walking digestive tracks.”

They have six eyes, which tragically provide them with no information about the form of an object. However, by swinging their heads, they perceive dark vertical shapes against light-colored backgrounds (much as we would see branches against the sky).

They have color vision (ultraviolet light and shades of green); they use the sun as a compass.

Successive cycles of body waves drive them forward, carrying their sixteen legs.

A typical female may emerge, call males, copulate, lay eggs, and, being completely spent, die in less than a day.

They love to feed on water tupelo, aspen, water oak, flowering dogwood, and cherry.

Their great epic, The Cherry Tree Journey, translated in 1530 by the blessed Persian angel Sorush, describes the journey of the Ortok tent caterpillar clan to retrieve the princess Zal carried away by a warbler and deposited in a bird-citadel in the top of a tall cherry tree.

Their other enemies are beetles, stink bugs, ants, wasps, chickadees, titmice, bluejays, the Baltimore oriole, redwing blackbirds, chebecs, wood peewees, phoebes, cuckoos, downy woodpeckers, red-eyed vireos, and the brown-headed cowbird.

They have no known friends.

Think about this: any aggregate of birds or animals that cooperated to build a communal shelter, shared information regarding the location of food patches, and had their own epic, would be considered a highly social unit.

Their sole musical instrument is thought to be the Cryptonephridium, embedded in the walls of their rectums.

It has recently been conjectured that the tectiforms engraved and painted on the sides of bison in the Upper Paleolithic cave of Font-de-Gaume may be tent caterpillar shelters and may have inspired Cro-Magnon people to construct small hide-covered lodges

The first architects!

We must now conclude this brief excursion by caterpillaring back into the toes of Ramesses I’s long black fish-foot, colonized, along with the rest of his statue, in a glass case (“Mummy Section”) of the British Museum.

. . .

A NOTE ON CLAYTON ESHLEMAN

In my writings over the years, the work of certain contemporaries, like that of multiple generations of forerunners, has given me a series of touchstones against which to test my own ideas & powers as a poet. … With Eshleman, as with other contemporaries, a kind of dialogue remains ongoing & mutual: an interchange that has spanned more than four decades & has fueled moves on my part, & possibly on his, that would have been impossible without such interaction. … I believe that Clayton, at an early point, had made the decision to be totally relentless in his calling as a poet, & I came to prize that relentlessness & his determination to pursue a poetry that would take him to his limits – & us along with him. There is with that a singular intelligence that emerges in the way he comes at a subject, an idea or an experience, & gives it an unexpected shape & meaning. Along with this he also – like the best of us – draws from the full range of what he can discover in the world, through his own observations or from those of others. In the present instance, then, the specialized material on “tent caterpillars” comes from a source book of that name by Terrence D. Fitzgerald, although the uses to which he puts it are distinctively his own & a sure reminder of his transcreative powers.

NB. Eshleman’s great magazine of the 1960s and 70s was also called Caterpillar.

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