I wrote this poem for a Writing Poetry from the Visual Arts workshop run by Melanie Figg of The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD. The class was held in the Summer of 2011. In the class we discussed poetry, essays, and visual art and shared a poem inspired by the visual arts for group critique. I had not typically been drawn to still lifes but wanted to explore them further to gain greater insight into their cultural significance, which was particularly strong during the Dutch Golden Age. On a museum tour that I attended on still lifes I learned that the Dutch thought beetles were responsible for house fires. I found this detail bizarre and fascinating and it gave me a focus for my poem.
The Arsonist Beetle
Beauty, no doubt, in these finely rendered lines
Each grape meticulously placed, each orange
deliberately peeled, and the oysters lie
side by side.
Such wonderful control, look only upon this
The rest does not matter, wiped out in black.
The flowers standing at the abyss
Arch and strain trying to get back.
The stripes you see are really a fungus
So this control is false, or at the least
incomplete. And there lurks among us
the arsonist beetle, disturbing the peace.
And all at once the whole thing seems a wry
Way of telling us “You too must die.”