first sighted when i was five,
you oozed from the east 118th street gutter.
a bubbling prune colored jam of moving things
fermenting in summer’s swelter.
a mass snap, crackle, pop
like my Rice Crispies.
but i wouldn’t eat you for breakfast.
daddy picked me up
and stepped over;
mama walked around you
her face frowned in disgust
as if you were a naughty child
banished to the corner forever,
and no one ever said your name.
on the 10th floor of east Harlem project buildings,
even flies have a hard time climbing the steps
when the elevators don’t work, but not you.
sent to the kitchen for something i forgot
when i saw you in hallway shadow
frozen in the middle of the brown tile floor.
a perfect disguise for you.
grandma’s WATER BUG echoes in my ear.
her order, go get the broom!
i could not, would not obey,
and you won over the fear of a nine year old.
a victory short-lived
as she slapped the stuff out of you
with that straw broom’s hard bodice;
used its skirt to sweep you into dustpan,
and flush you away. just another piece of sewage.
finally, i knew your name
a new 3 bedroom terraced apartment
in a building built on Bronx landfill
would have been perfect.
but, there you were creeping on sidewalk,
in lobby, laundry room, stairwell, compactor room
(moving up meant new names for garbage disposal).
you never changed no matter how upscale the home.
you, always around in different shapes, sizes, colors
round, oval, long, short, black, brown.
in that year of being fifteen,
i walked fast every time i saw you.
content to let you be.
but, passive never stopped your invasion.
when kitty grew to cat, he used you
for toy in the darkness. slapped you around
the way the drunk upstairs slapped his wife.
i praised the cat and cursed you,
as i dumped you and the garbage
the way she wished she could have dumped him
fluttering wings in a doorway,
moth i thought. no, it was you,
four inch big brown ugly you
attacked my face, landed on my green carpet
and every one, even the dog, was asleep.
i dropped an economics textbook on you;
the rug softened the blow.
you ran under my bed.
i followed moving furniture.
dropped the yellow pages on you,
12 a.m. / still you ran.
step-dad tried with a shoe
you ran, ran out of my room
into the storage closet next door.
we sprayed Raid and gave up.
1 a.m. / me, awoke on the living room couch
trying to watch Don Kirschners rock concert.
you inched up the white drape.
step-dad swatted with newspaper;
i aimed the can of Raid to finish you off.
still, you escaped between floor and red carpet edge.
you darted across the room.
we pounced, newspaper, shoe and broom
damn wall to wall your protector.
4:30 a.m. / still you ran.
mama, me, oldest brother, step-dad
cornered / you took flight like a kamikaze.
it was us or you, and we were losing.
hiding behind upturned sofa and chairs.
i couldn’t figure out why you wouldn’t die.
even the damned Raid was no match.
could you have taken Ali in one round?
did you gloat climbing the dining room wall
at 5 a.m. to survey the hard won battle field?
were you gloating when baby brother finally got up
tired of the noise / took five minutes
to calmly climb a step ladder
and crunch you with a length of 2”x4”?
this time, you died a warrior.
out of college
on my own
saw you scurrying
in Parkchester streets.
summer nights found you peeking
up at the world from the drain cover.
your antennae sensing for danger.
autumn leaves from the oak covered the ground.
i heard the pop as my booted foot crushed you.
i cringed. your relatives took revenge two days later.
one nervy S-O-B walked unannounced
under my apartment door during a dinner party.
my friend reached for the broom the way grandma did.
now my secret was out, my fear was out,
and i reached for the wine
my hands shaking / DAMNED BUG!
i will not stay where you are;
stay where you are
cause i know you.
too many dry winters
and hundred degree summer days
draw moisture from earth,
and you from Mount Vernon sewers.
birds and skunks are happy to feast.
the exterminator in my basement is happy.
my pocket book is not.
you and the pesticides grow stronger
you followed me to Jersey, Virginia,
Florida. even Disney couldn’t hide you.
maybe i should call you Abraham’s freed man;
cause there’s no safe place for you either
and you live and die hard just like us.
will you follow me to the grave,
follow me to the grave,
to the grave??????
By E.J. Antonio
Mount Vernon, NY
E.J. Antonio is a Cave Canem-NY Regional Fellow and a 2006 Pushcart Prize nominee. A frequently featured reader in the Tri-state area, her work appears in various literary journals, anthologies, magazines and online poetry sites.