Spiders I Have Known
After W.S. Merwin
The wolf spider kept warm by my breath, huge to my waking eye, paused there as if sent, lounging for who knows how long on my sleeping mouth at the campout as if waiting for me to wake, part of some practical joke. The fast and frightened kind likely to bite, perhaps horrified by my foaming, shampooed head in the basement shower, when my mind saw it strike the moment my eyes closed. The massed, always open eyes, gleaming like creviced pinpricks of secretive light, huddled alleyfuls of small mobs. The behemoths my mother caught in mason jars, gentle monsters who refused all food until turned loose. The little thrill-seeker that persistently built its bad castle inside my driver's side view mirror, riding along in its sidecar at seventy miles an hour, or the tiny eyes peering up from their web circumscribed by the steering wheel, like some friend who'd said he knew the right way, that he'd take control of my life. The spiderlings small as tears, bursting with brother and sister from egg sac or cocoon— my childhood poured them out of rusted swing set or boxelder tree tower, onto the rare red and white mottled wood, festering with black ants, under siege, teeming with tiny soldiers, each splendidly rappelling down its slender, silken rope, creatures so intricately wrought, hurrying into their brief lives on an earth overseen by beings who'd crush them without a second thought.
A few mere blocks from here,
inside the door of the department store
the worst store greeter I've ever seen
stares too long at customers
and, only sometimes, manages a solemn nod,
dispensing such uncomfortable silences
it's as if he's paralyzed by shame
or nameless grief, as if some inner fear
grips him by his graying beard
and shakes the crumbling ruin called his will to live.
There's no trace of a smile on his face.
Just a morose stare that says, I don't like this job.
I don't know you, and I never dreamed
I'd have to do this for a living. It's so bad his sadness
has become a joke between my wife and me.
She admits she just can't look
and hence pretends instead to shop. I, on the other hand,
like to smile, partly to counterbalance the woe,
partly in tribute to this man
who won't fake it for a buck,
who is bored and refuses to pretend he adores
the entrance of yet another stranger,
this lone Bartleby who clearly has no desire
to roll out the phony welcome mat
modern capitalism requires.