Unfamiliar Shapes

One night when it’s past bedtime, I’m sitting on the closet floor surrounded by books, and they are all the wrong ones, don’t show me what I’m looking for, the small black beetle I held in my hands a few nights prior on a friend’s patio, its finely segmented legs sticking to my hand, the way I watched it circle my palms, lit by the glow of the string lights overhead.

Of the seven books I have on insects more than half are those of the bright-winged fragile things, order Lepidoptera, butterflies and moths, all given to me by someone else, the best of them a series of before and after close up photos of caterpillars and what they become, the one where my son makes me say the Latin names too, the words on which my tongue, unfamiliar with the shapes of them, hesitates. And when I sit amongst the books, looking for that small beetle, the one from order Coleoptera, sheath wing, I think of all those words, of how my tongue could not say them right, think too how this week, maybe, it could not say anything right, tastes nothing familiar, tries anyway.

It’s way past bedtime when I sit on that floor, and it’s too late to be looking for beetles, thinking of the way the back of it had shone in the lights, how I had watched it, too late to be thinking too of the face of someone else watched in those same lights and in the dark car on the drive home after.

Even in the morning, on the internet, I cannot find the right picture, not one that matches exactly that small life I had held in my palm on a patio before letting go. The beetle’s shape remains something unfamiliar, like all those Latin words I had shaped my tongue around when reading to my son, like the words I had filled my mouth with for that person, the ones that had scared me, but less to say than to not. All those words, the taste of them on my tongue, unfamiliar. All those words, the ones that maybe I didn’t get quite right, but tried anyway.

I tried them anyway.

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