Recently, I have been reading The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle with my 16-month old daughter. In this story (which we have read many times now) the spider is diligent and focused, despite many distractions, and at the end of this very busy day she completes her masterful web. Spiders have always fascinated me, but I know that is not the case for everyone. In fact, according to a recent study by the National Institute for Mental Health, 30.5% of people in the U.S. are afraid of spiders. While some cultures revere the spider as a benevolent creature, they are more commonly perceived as dangerous pests. What is unique to the poetry of Pattiann Rogers is her ability to weave minute scientific details into gorgeous, moving imagery. Her poem “Hail, Spirit” not only celebrates the mechanical beauty of the spider and its web-making process, but it also delights in the spider as musician, artist and teacher. She writes, “We can never hear/ the music she makes as she plucks her silk/ strings with the toes and spurs and tarsal/ tufts of her eight legs at once. She performs the reading of her soul.” In an interview with Poets & Writers in 2008 Rogers said, “The life forms on our earth are amazing to children, and they remain amazing for many adults. The more we learn about them the more amazing and mysterious they become.” As a translator for the natural world, Pattiann Rogers reminds us that before we choose fear, perhaps we should try wonder. Then we can begin to innocently observe and learn from what is before us. After reading this poem I know I will never forget to admire the delicate craftsmanship and impermanence of a spider’s web again. I have been reminded, “The work is her heart strung on its tethers, ravenous, abiding.”
A weaver, this spider, she plays her eight thin
black legs and their needle-nail toes across
the threads faster, more precisely, than a harpist
at concert can pluck the strings in pizzicato.
Although blind at night, she nevertheless
fastens a thread to a branch of chokecherry
on one side of the path, links it to a limb
of shining sumac opposite, latches the scaffold
to ground stone and brace of rooted grasses.
And the structure takes dimension.
Skittering upside down across and around,
she hooks the hooks, knots the widening
spirals, the tightened radii, orbs and hubs,
bridges and bridgeheads. We can never hear
the music she makes as she plucks her silk
strings with all the toes and spurs and tarsal
tufts of her eight legs at once. She performs
the reading of her soul.
Oh, remember how vital her eyes, the eyes
of her gut, eyes of her touch gauging the tension,
her eyes of gravity and balance, of guile, steady
eyes of reckoning. Don’t miss the moment
when she drops, a quick grasp, catches, swings
forward again. An artiste.
She expands the sky, her completed grid
a gamble, a ploy played on the night. The silk
is still, translucent and aerial, hanging in a glint
of half-moon. The work is her heart strung
on its tethers, ravenous, abiding.
Pattiann Rogers has published fourteen books, most recently The Grand Array (Trinity) andWayfare(Penguin). Her awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Literary Award from the Lannan Foundation, five Pushcart Prizes, two appearances in Best American Poetry, and five in Best Spiritual Writing. She lives in Colorado.
The above image is by Scott Anderson, used with permission under a Creative Commons license.