National Poetry Month Poem-a-Week 2012: Alison Hawthorne Deming’s “Mosquitoes”

April 27, 2012

Alison Hawthorne Deming and raccoon cub.

I love when poetry shows up in unexpected places.

The Poetry Society of America and the MTA recently revived their “Poetry in Motion” program on the New York City subways.

The Clint Eastwood Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler, written by poet Matthew Dickman, is another example.

“The Language of Conservation,” a Poets House project that provides residencies for poets in zoos around the country, is still another.

So I was thrilled when American Scientist magazine published my friend Alison Hawthorne Deming‘s poem “Mosquitoes” in a recent issue.

Alison lives in the Tucson desert and draws inspiration from the natural world there, her native New England, as well as Grand Manan Island, Canada, where she has a family home, the Everglades, Alaska — really, wherever she is.

Her work has long been concerned with the relationship between art and science — her first book was titled Science & Other Poems — and the science of looking at the world. So her appearance in a scientific magazine is not really a surprise, but the fact that the magazine publishes poetry at all is to be celebrated.

Alison’s books include the poetry collection Rope (Penguin, 2009) and the essay collection The Edges of the Civilized World (Picador USA, 1998). She is coeditor of The Colors of Nature: Essays on Culture, Identity, and the Natural World (Milkweed Editions, revised edition 2011).

Formerly director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center, Alison teaches creative writing at the University of Arizona and also serves as chair of the board of directors for Orion magazine. She recently completed a new nonfiction book titled Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit. 

Whether writing about individual species (The Monarchs), entire ecosystems, or the human despoilment of nature, Alison trains a scientist’s eye on her subjects. Yet, she’s not afraid to add a little wry humor into the mix.

“Mosquitoes” offers an enlightened victim’s view of this annoying insect, prompting us to appreciate its singleness of purpose and a reciprocity with which most of us would rather not comply.

Here is Alison Hawthorne Deming’s “Mosquitoes”:


 First came the scouts who felt our sweat in the air

and understood our need to make a sacrifice.

We were so large and burdened with all we had carried,

our blood too rich for our own good. They understood

that we could give what they needed and never miss it.

Then came the throng encircling our heads like acoustic haloes

droning with the me-me-me of appetite. We understood

their pleasure to find such hairless beasts so easy to open and drink.

We understood their female ardor to breed and how little

they had to go on considering the protein required to make

their million-fold eggs. Vibrant, available, and hot,

we gave our flesh in selfless service to their future.



 — Alison Hawthorne Deming




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