Contrary to what
I once believed to be their near-immortal
deprived of oxygen in an old jam jar,
rounded up body by
body as they
scrambled under someone’s sink
over the course of
I don’t know how many days or weeks
and brought by coat pocket into
a French period room where the Trustees were
gathered for dinner behind a
cockroaches landed DOA in proximity
to the writing desk of Louis XV,
to infiltrate that woodwork, itself an
imitation of Chinese lacquer—
God’s plastic—both the secretion
of the female
Asian scale insect Laccifer lacca,
named for the Sanskrit word for the swarm of
one hundred thousand of her coating a tree
in a sumptuous
ectoplasm I would like to
and a scarlet resin like it—
thick, deep, sticky, and hard
as the hard candy layer of a candy apple—
made from the toxic tree sap of a relation
of poison ivy.
Which is it? Insect or plant?
Who or what? The original black silk velvet blotter
upon which the king of France unrolled
his map and spread his documented
mistress was lost
before his giant desk was brought to this
gallery in the year of my birth.
But matter never disappears
entirely. I stroke the vestige
of that fabric, chewed up, swallowed,
through the abdomen of silverfish
and shit-deposited back into earth
where the wild root hairs of an oak tree,
from which was hewn
this borrowed desk I write this down on,
groped that desperate
velvet power. The year of my birth?
This very desk?
Endowing me with what self-centered knowledge
it’s my job or fate to disseminate
from the Information Desk? A stranger
once approached me
there and said,
“I was on your flight last week!
You were on my plane!”
From Information Desk: An Epic by Robyn Schiff. Copyright © 2023. Published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.