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Nicophorus

January 30, 2017

Death-loving to the point

of monogamy, we carry

the corpse of the world

on our feet, shuffling forward

to a suitable burial, to the pit

we’ve dug that consumes

what we love, and feeds

those who come after us.

–Todd Davis, 2015

COMMENTARY: This is the opening poem in Todd Davis’s Winterkill, a book of short nature poems, often about insects. “Nicophorus” is the Latin name for the “burying beetle,” an odd beetle that finds dead mice and birds, mummifies them in a gauze-like substance, and then buries them in the ground in order to mate and lay their eggs inside. After they’ve completed the burial, their young feed on the flesh of the carcass as they develop.

Though the poem is straightforward description, there may be a hint of metaphoric tension in the words “monogamy” and “love”–more often used for human relationships, and there is clear symbolic intent in the expansive phrase “corpse of the world.” The theme of “life through death” is an old enough one (“Ode to the West Wind,” for example, or the myth of the phoenix), but Davis’s approach, through the almost scientific lens of an obscure insect ritual, is interesting and novel.

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