Bird-Eating Spiders

by guest writer J. Rodney Karr

for Maria Merian
Suriname 1692

Maria mixes reds inside sketched wings
of Rufous hummingbirds, thickens a line
on cylindrical tongues. Guyanan sun
shades pulps of unknown fruits that color four
brown spinnerets still wet enough to smear.
She has watched for hours whistling loops
and light ascensions to delicate nests
in spurge trees. Science is art. The sun gleams
from ruddish feathers puffed in display
and gilds the hairs upon the spider’s legs.
But there is no death within this sunlight,
only truth. The bird and spider now join
beneath the palm bark brush, within the branch
beneath Maria’s eye where nothing moves
except the hummingbird’s eye’s eventual light
and color and her mind’s eye, color, light.

Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium,
her life’s work, translated from the Dutch,
is scrutinized beneath thought and eye, disbelieved
until an Australian zoologist
explores the Amazon. A woman’s mind
cannot be trusted. The scientist sees
a tiny bird within the light that moved
centuries before within Maria.
He sees the sudden brown dash, the flinch,
the fang’s repeated insertions to liquefy
the viscera, then the bird quickly dragged away.
Within his book he writes in praise of God
the sun in its exactness never lies.

This poem first appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review.
Painting by Maria Merian.


  1. That's a helluva poem you got there, Mr. Karr!


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