Cleopatra Mathis

True Bug | I Will Be Good
September 6, 2013 Cleopatra Mathis

True Bug


I’ve been talking to a bug all winter.

We live together, he and I.

He’s listed in the manual, oddly

wandering here from a warmer state.

His kind of insect must stay alive

all the coldest months, true bug

appearing indoors when you least expect.

But he is faultless: he will not

sting, bite, breed, eat or shit.

Mostly, he is motionless,

a long brittle shell, antennae

rarely testing the air.

His reluctant body preserves him.

I never see when he finds it necessary

to change position. He’ll choose the bedpost

for a week or so, sometimes my bureau,

perched among the rings I no longer wear.

He keeps to my room with nothing

to say, no complaint to wake me.

Ours is a companionable life,

both of us going about our business—

mine bent on feeding a hungry past,

his great feat of living without.

On the first warm day, he’ll know

—just like that, some screen will open.

Until then, I find him a good listener.

He doesn’t mind. He waits.



I Will Be Good


I will be good, I will wait

on the birds, the turkeys, the deer. I will provide

the black-oil seeds, dried corn

(the gold so shiny on snow), and I will not watch

the progressive stripping

of the slender ornamental cherry.

For the clumsy doves, I will use my hands

to dig out the scatter of thrown-out seed,

and even after the woodpecker fattens and preens,

I will render the suet, cool it and mold it,

and wade out to his old lone tree

to hang it free from other feeders.


As for my finches in their sullen coats of dun and ash,

fluffed feathers holding off the cold

but not the hardening weight of record snow,

what can I do but beg.

And when that icy knot of a creature

falls on my porch,

I will bring a hairdryer

and plug it into the outdoor socket, and I will cover

the bird with diffused, kind air.

I will warm the great outdoors

for the whole of January if I can.

I must be good, and I will see it

if a single breath stirs.


Cleopatra Mathis is the author of seven books of poems, most recently  Book of Dog published by Sarabande in 2013. She is also a 2013 recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work has appeared widely in anthologies, textbooks, magazines and journals, including The Best American Poetry, 2009, The New Yorker, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Tri-Quarterly, The Southern Review, and The Georgia Review.  The winner of numerous literary awards, she is  the Frederick Sessions Beebe ’35 Professor of the Art of Writing at Dartmouth College, where she founded  the Creative Writing Program in 1982.