Mama Cockroach, I Love You


Because you cosy with the aunties in your
reeking slums, and are intimate and sweet.

Because you begrudge no one a meal, but ooze
a faecal trail to lead your commune to its source,

like a dirty bee. Because you are joyfully promiscuous.
Because you pouch your young and hide them

in the sweaty creases of the house
near suppurating food so they’ll hatch to a feast;

or, keep your eggs with you in a special purse
shaped like a kidney bean, and clutch it fast;

or reinsert them into your abdomen
and womb them there; or carry them as yolks

and give live birth, then feed your pale brood
secretions from your anus, or your armpit glands,

like milk; or, deep in the flesh of a rotten log
pass them a bolus of pre-digested food, mouth to mouth.

Because you suffer your young to swarm upon
your back, and do not flinch or buck them off,

but carry them like a human playing horsey
with her children, down on hands and knees,

decrying the swag of her own loose flesh.
Because you twirl your antennae gracefully

to test your crawl space. Because strokingly
you caress your offsprings’ backs, and gentle them

with pretty pheromones and chirps. Because
you purr when your young stroke your face.

Because you would leave your body for your offspring
to dine upon — all the liquors and gravy

of the obscene world, your work in the crannies
delivered to the living. Because you are,

despite all rumours, mortal. And what if
you are crushed before your eggs can be delivered?

What if your sisters drive you, hissing, out?
What if your kitchen is fumigated?!

What if the mongoose the lizard the snake —
a muscular tongue prying at the warm and greasy interstices

of your stubborn occupancy — takes you in its mouth?
Someone must care for the dirt.

“Mama Cockroach, I Love You” from Ephemeron by Fiona Benson. Published by Jonathan Cape. Copyright © Fiona Benson. Reproduced by permission of the author c/o Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN