Trilobite is an arthropodologist's delight:
many bizarre creatures; no two alike.

five poems

Holly Schaeffer-Raymond

Thank You For These Cockroach Memories

On 10/12/2023 I got my orchiectomy
In the clear mid-day of New Hampshire
Where you can look out the window of the hospital
And see that the ghost pepper Whopper is back
I turned 37 at some point during this procedure,
I don’t know when, Abby was out there gazing
At the ghost pepper Whopper and foreseeing,
I like to think, the next week’s rains,
And knitting something specific, green and brown,
A metrical thing perpendicular to me there, snoozing,
And out of the slit open body, surprise! Cockroaches,
In this half-meandering dream, capering out in joy
“Congratulations a lot on getting your balls cut off,
Even though dogs get this all the time for free,
Actually they don’t even need to work that hard for it,
It’s just the price of playing the game,
For boy dogs of a particular rakish character…”
“Am I better at being trans now,” I ask the dancing roaches,
Who say “that’s a pathetic and needy question”
I say “ok” and they disperse in all directions
The doctors say “cut that out” and I blubber
Unconvincingly, it’s not like I’m
The roaches’ boss

I am writing this down to make a note of what it’s like
To cast some minor flesh aside, say hey no you keep this
To the anesthesiologists and nurses like dispensing a tip,
Did you know about Vejovis, the evil mode of Jupiter,
Who was the god of healing and kept his lightning
In his tight mitts, who nicknamed himself Summanus
And got his head knocked off by storms
And whose head was never found again,
Not dredged from the bottom of the Tiber River
Nor seen in thick sleep by the bolt-happy haruspices
Whose fingers smelled foul and leaked black juice down the hill
Down the same pit in which he tipped the rotten goats and wethers
Went his heavy head, down and down,
Lightning on the high hill, lightning after lightning after lightning,
The regular army of bugs at the foot of the peak
Working their miracle mouths
Making found things vanish
In the far future I am meeting the cockroach president
At waste disposal pit #17, a quiet but buzzy slime pit
Where the most deliriously mutated movers and shakers
Slurp what some critics call the most food-like
Protein slurry in town
I ask if he remembers me, his own mother,
Or something, does he remember spilling out
From New Hampshire and skedaddling,
Gone forever, and now, look, how he’s made
Something of himself, where’s the gratitude?
“I don’t care,” says cockroach president,
Spinning a gun around each billion-fold finger,
And telling me how he’s been dating a highwayman,
A real road agent, you know what I mean
Though I have no more money than a capuchin
I horde the dignity of the hollows like a coin
Pouched to the side of the cheek, a lucky acorn
Or magic dice hidden through ordeals
Which cockroach president can really get onboard with
And I eat my protein slurry with a smile
And the slurry fucken sucks (tastes like slurry)

On 10/22/2023 Abby comes back from New York
With a leftover biscuit and some gravy, for me,
And I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve been forgetting to eat
Since sleeping on the day-bed, out of it from pain and unable
To skip nimbly into the regular bed, poor honey, she says,
When the brocken bows project the ghost of a testicle
High against grey Mount Mansfield, singular and wobbling,
And every cockroach cultist throngs to wave its
Tiny lighter in the air in adoration, it’s fine,
I’m honestly flattered, all of these pinpricks of green light
Rippling like sheathes beyond where I can see them

Thank you for these cockroach memories,
I wish I could say, like doctors fond of the visceral
Thrill sometimes hold the cyst to your face, like the world’s
Worst strawberry, as if waiting for you to kiss it goodbye
I am the guy in Asalto la Coche, not the guy with the gun
And not the guy lying dead, no, the guy jumbled up
Three legs and four arms on the ground, a huge
Syzygy of accidents and ill-chosen practices
Ignored by the polite bandits looking with their thumbs
In their mouths at the pleading toffs, the pile of heads
That drifted downstream from elsewhere, all of them
Making their separate apologies…
And if the stitches dissolve and the adhesive melts
And the cockroaches return from their tour
With new tattoos and intimidating facial hair,
Interesting looking knives flicking up and down
In their novel rascal hands,
I’d batten the gates against them

Maul is Lost Episode I: I Am Darth Maul

In 1999 my body was chopped
In half by a guy named Obi-Wan Kenobi
And this was not the end, no,
But a sort of pale middle, a nuisance
That disrupted my days for awhile
Then abated, like a pet with bad teeth,
Or an uninsured cyst

I fell down a garbage pit, or something,
For what must have been years, in that time
Thinking mostly about my student loans,
Whether or not, as a cut in half person,
I would still have to pay them.
I fell forever. You don’t need to worry about it.

I fell down a garbage pit and saw with splendor
My bottom half spinning away into obscurity,
And did not know what was to come.
In space we make very little money
And our bosses are bad.
I am in debt not from schooling,
But from being kept in an evil wizard’s closet
For so long, learning only how to cartwheel
And cleave everything in two for no reason.
In a garbage pit I saw lights turn on
And then off again in unprecedented patterns,
Windows rushing past me, the planet
disclosed coyly in the innards
Of its inexplicable central tubes and power cores and
I imagined a different life in which I might have gasped
To see some sort of alive-type creature
Reveal itself in kind to me in animal joy, beautiful,
Rapid, this seduction of the garbage pit in vertical terminus.
I could have kissed Obi-Wan Kenobi
For spinning and flipping with me, for a little bit,
And when I fell swiftly from him with a cool
Little kick I felt a lowness in my heart,
As with stitches being removed,
A brief nausea, little pops and starbursts
Before my yellow eyes, that “were we not friends?” sensation
You know, like from middle school or fainting
From catastrophic blood loss

When I came at last to the gate of heaven
I found no saints waiting, but the mortis god himself,
Personally, a move I thought spoke to
A kind of cheapness to the whole affair

He asked if I still smoked and I said no,
He said my tattoos and sharp teeth looked cool.
I said thank you.

At this point in the poem I am trying out alternate
Ways this all could have gone, in my mind I am biting
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lower lip, like in all of my fan-fictions,
And he is becoming alarmingly more beautiful
In between each frame and falling backwards
Out of view, forever,
I am rotating the world with my own volition,
In make believe, I am conceiving of an impermanence
Of angle and approach.
God noted with an air
Of polite awe that I was too mean to die.
A mean bastard like you should get to live forever…
No, no. I said.
I’m actually nice
And very very sweet

Maul Is Lost Episode II: You Are Darth Maul

And you are asking me if I like you
As much as I did when I was 12
And saw your body splayed in two across the screen
Like a rubik’s cube appealingly smashed in half,
“Riddle solved!”
And I bite off the front ⅕ of my tongue
To avoid hurting your feelings, better
To head off speech entirely
Than say an unkind word to a man clearly suffering,
Your legs replaced with vast metal spider’s legs,
Your face all soured and wretched,
Huge viscous golden tears clumped at the corners
Of your nasty looking eyes
Are you flirting with me? Is your metal spider leg touching
My thigh to be cute, or out of an evil robot hunger?
I shift politely half a foot to the side.

I feel as if you’d tricked me
Into thinking the divorce of the body from itself
Would be as easy as picking the wrong fight,
Or tiring myself out pacing in a lean and
Mangy way between the right set of forcefields,
The parts I hated spiraling out of sight in bloodless
Parallax, the parts I favored augmented by witches
You became so furious in the famous golden light of TV
That you sutured back together
Whatever famous golden white ninjas had stolen
If I seem upset with you that’s why
I stop playing with your pinky finger,
I stop rotating your chunky pinky rings around
I break eye contact
I throw your dangerous sword into the ocean

The hairdresser asked if I wanted to look like you
I said bald head no
Myriad horns yes
And she made a sound like, “tph,” or “chhh”
She began the incision just above the ear
And kept carving until I apologized
For the unseemly weight and wan color
Of the messed up brain she held dripping
Over the sink
As a child I thought your tongue would be black,
Like a goat’s, and that your teeth would taste
The same as the end of a battery tastes
How naive, how adorable, blundering around outside,
Not knowing that a goat’s tongue is just as pink as mine

Maul is Lost Episode III: I Am Me, and Darth Maul is Hidden, Crouched Behind the Wawa in the Last Stanza

The fingers are worse at being eyes than the eyes are, and the teeth are bad at being fingers. I’m told over and over again to stop studying the back of my head with my hands, so nervous of anomalies, little bumps or errors in the fabric of skull and hair. When I wake up I worry that I taste blood, but no, it’s just coffee, and I’m bad at tasting with a finger hooked into the cheek. Or is it blood actually actually…? The nice doctor who’s probably younger than me is getting tired of being asked if I have cancer of the piss so I make a little joke to him. We both laugh for 27 minutes, the world clapping and hooting and losing its mind just outside the window, in nine inches of snow, curled beneath the cars and trembling.

I think I dreamt there was a secret third kind of bile that blew the lid wide open on humoural theory, not one too fine to merit the doctors’ notice, but one too gross to be acknowledged, luminous, a huge fake green like a childrens’ game show from the 90s. And when it rises from the human body it rises in tricky malice, out of the mouth and nose like the teleplasmic hand, cheesecloth and phosphorus, and everybody prays for it to go back inside. The third kind of bile makes you stupid, it seeps, it communicates clamorously via telepathy about this sort of minutia and that, and I drink it in giant mouthfuls from my favorite little cup with an H on it.

Everyone I went to highschool with has since ascended to the state of culture hero, or has died into formal saintliness. Some of them hover in a circle outside, humming gently, others leap from the tops of skyscrapers and land unharmed. Some are writing short novels about other countries. Some are holding their flagons to the light and going “haw!” I have gained only a girl’s name and healthy rations of the third kind of bile, and a medical body, and free time. I am licking the third kind of bile from my fingers like a cartoon bear, third kind of bile sticky on my face in green, splattered in gobs on all my nice sweaters. My doctor is shaking his head at the inevitability. The pills against baldness and stupidity might be fake. The guns against stupidity and acedia might be unloaded. They might be loaded with squibs. I aim wildly into the sky just to check. In this era of polite honesty I root myself in the garden as if I were a sweet potato, immerse myself with ESP in the transit of snakes and bugs. I only read Star Wars novels and I do not play videogames with any kind of point to them. I have not had an idea since 2019. When I am done with the crops outside, I gather other, faker crops on the computer. I examine the dog’s brown teeth. I go “haw!” and remember with great pleasure the name of each kind of lightsaber fighting style (matashi, ataru, the dreaded vapad…). I am teaching children how to spell “invert” online. I am looking up pictures of naked gay people from 1908, for school, and remembering that all of them are dead.

The hairdresser asks if I want to look like an ewok and my silence is damning. She asks if I want to look like a girl ewok and I begin to sweat a third kind of bile from my forehead and cheeks, bioluminescent and joyful. When I was a baby I was saved from untimely and gruesome death by an esoteric god of honest answers, now dead, and I pay down that debt permanently whenever I spit out the gristle of the day. I am trying to consolidate all known loans by shaking the rustic spear of a girl ewok at the computer and snarling, I am on my hands and knees in Burlington, Vermont crawling inch by inch south towards the Wawas of my smooth-skinned youth, backlit by the sun and prosperous, desperate to crawl back into that pupa-hole, someone awful waiting by the milk crates and the day old bread.

Maul is Lost Episode IX: We Are Qui-Gon Jin

The dead speak!
We are a lot of young children with loose teeth,
And old men becoming older with loose teeth

We’re chewed up cookie between the tooth and the gum,
Shaking, we are the possibility of a tiny fracture running
From the root to the fine air

Look— we are dead.
You will be polite at our funeral
Comb the pollen from our stupid hair-cut
Remember us as we were, doing backflips
From the breezeway

We did not come here to free the slaves
Or solve any problems
Or return your mother to you forever
We came here to look into the middle distance
At something emerging from the dust a cool
And interesting shape
As immaculate as we are
Our hand on our own joint beard
Our nasty little swords totally invisible
And inconceivable to the untaught eye

We are going to the ocean in a mysterious shape
And not returning
Oh look at us dwindling
Oh commodities with living eyeballs
We will own our own home
We are over dozens, over thousands, over billions
Of stupid molecules dancing in a vial
And explaining fungibility to spirits
We will become the ghost
As a method of professional development
We will never own our own home
Or own it with resentment
And eat feral crumbs for supper two nights in a row

We will turn your sand to sand inside your mouth
You will sink beneath the red waves
While we’re looking at something else
In the totally opposite direction
Growing larger and more fascinating
And somehow from some neglected space returning