The Death Jar by Sara Backer

The Death Jar

My sister’s chore was cleaning; mine was killing.
Each summer morning, my mother sent me to her rose garden.
With a flick of my finger, Japanese beetles slipped off pink petals
into a jelly jar half-filled with turpentine.

The beetles, like lacquerwork miniatures, gleamed iridescent
green; hard wings shone copper. Six barbed legs
ended in tiny hooks lifted in curved gestures, holding kabuki poses
while they ate. When they flew, they whirred and wobbled.

For sport, I slid a slipknot up a beetle’s leg, prodded the beetle to fly,
and delighted in catching the dangling thread, grabbing a life
out of mid-air. My sister called me cruel, and I stopped; but why
it was wrong to play with beetles and right to kill them?

My mother cherished her roses so
she couldn’t see Japanese beetles had their own elegance,
even though they rendered leaves to skeletons
and carved ugly craters through rose buds. I loved roses, too.

I buried my nose in pink and golden vortices, kissed
their petals to feel softness on my lips, to ease the lesson
of summer: that I must destroy beauty to save beauty, while sensing,
in a child’s way, that I was more the beetle than the rose.

by Sara Backer, from Such Luck, first published in Bamboo Ridge.

Editor’s note: This narrative poem’s opening line and title immediately intrigue the reader and the rest of it does not disappoint as we follow the speaker from beetle murderer to self-awareness.