Ode to the Hornworm

I spy a hornworm in my garden 
and pluck it from a branch.

Hold it delicately between my 
thumb and forefinger, 
examine it end to end.  

He squirms and wiggles languidly, 
twisting his sinuously supple body 

like a yogi saluting the sun.

His specious corpulent form 
suspends daintily in the air, 

puffs of early morning breeze 
flow over his bloated belly, 

this new space so vastly different 
from the firm foliage 
where he normally sojourns
at this short-lived stage 
of his all-to-brief life. 

His translucent 
lime-green coat luminesces 
in the bright sunshine, 

the eight V-shaped stripes on his back 
distinguishes him from his cousin, 
the diagonally-striped 
tobacco hornworm.

“V” is for vine or tomato, 
I muse to myself, 
“diagonal” looks like 
white cigarettes, 

although these guys 
don’t always follow the rules, 
sometimes encroaching 
on the other’s territory. 

He is larva, 

destructive from my perspective, 
but only doing what his 
instincts demand, 

devouring his preferred meal 
voraciously, denuding and destroying 
my Solanaceae 

before snuggling into the ground 
to wait for the next stage,
his final transformation.

I examine the nine small black spots 
he has on his right side, 
and the nine identical spots on his left, 

each surrounded by 
a thin sliver of white, 
like eighteen little eyes, 

staring, staring, staring. 

Which is his head, I wonder, 
as I inspect one end 
with a small spiked horn 
projecting from the top 

before checking the other end, 

amused by the sharp 
black and white projections 
jutting buck-tooth like 
from his ridged underside. 

Do herbivores have fangs, 
or are these something else? 

I hear a sharp 
click, click, click 
emerge from him, 

a warning of attack 
or is this a distress signal, 
a white flag of surrender? 

Is he in fight-or-flight mode 
or is he thinking of the rest he needs,
the rest he deserves 

after working so feverishly to grow, 

preparing to mature 
before making his final transformation
into the delicate brown-spotted 
Manduca moth. 

I look around my garden, 

look at the scarlet and fuchsia flowers, 
hidden amongst the green foliage; 

look at the peppers, 
dangling from their stalks, 
colors vibrant, green, yellow, red; 

look at the luscious 
smooth-skinned tomatoes, 
sun-ripened to a brilliant orange. 

The tomatoes that I came to pick 
before I was distracted 

by this luminescent green intruder, 
trying desperately to blend in, 
to escape notice. 

I look, I smell, I hesitate…

I throw him to the chickens, 
a tasty treat on a summer’s morn.

                                                                       Dawn Bauman ~ 2016

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