Home > Nature in the Cracks > The Dead Alive and Busy

The Dead Alive and Busy

March 10, 2008

—Henry Vaughan, “To His Books”

On an Adirondack path
near Fall Lake my dog
halts to puzzle over
a glossy black mass
of what was once
a squirrel, perhaps,
or a day-shy mink—
no way to tell which,
the stink so far advanced
all that’s left is a few gobs
of flesh dark as leaf rot,
a couple tufts of fur,

so the shock of shocks
comes when, bending
to tug at my dog’s collar,
I see the heap suddenly
shift, that horror-flesh
somehow alive, dissolved
muscles still seething
in rank air, a vanished
leg twitching,

and though it takes but
a moment for reason
to suggest the truth,
a beetle colony busy
in that corpse, their shells
shiny with bright yellow
strips—color of warning
now rising amidst the awful
jelly, then sinking again—

though the moment passes
and earth resumes
its laws, it is time enough
to smell the horrid stench
that cannot fade even
in sweetest air.

by David Graham

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  1. March 11, 2008 at 12:10 am

    great poem – thanks

  2. March 11, 2008 at 8:08 am

    What a poem! So visual, so sensual–sights, sounds, smells. And, my favorite place–the Adirondacks.

  3. March 11, 2008 at 9:13 am

    Thanks, Rob & Jilly! You’re fast!


  4. March 11, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    How terrifically awfully vivid — I love it!

  5. Lisa Jean
    March 17, 2008 at 8:58 am

    Wonderful, David. A place I too have been, the dead alive for just a moment filling my mind with horror.

  6. March 18, 2008 at 11:47 am


    I’d read about burying beetles (aka sexton beetles) long before I actually saw them in action. It was a wondrous shock, then strangely fascinating.

    An interesting web page for the unsqueamish:


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