FEBRUARY 2019
EXPIATION
by Dale Ritterbusch
“It is a black widow’s web,”
the exterminator says after he’s
put the termites under
control. “Spray it,” he says
“before they get in your house.”
It is a caution, an admonition
so much like every other,
all rules to be observed,
Janissaries to the end.

I work in the overgrown back yard,
cut back the dead from an earlier frost.
It is tiring work, and endless,
as if nothing can be left alone
to live or die on its own.

Eyes blinded with sweat,
I deadhead the roses,
something I should have done
several months ago.

I need a break and walk back
inside, the heat, the exertion,
overbearing. I gulp water— glass
after glass— and glance down,
my work jeans covered with web
stuck harder than Velcro to the fabric
of these pants, my socks, my steel-toed shoes.

And there upon the kitchen floor
a spider, sleek and black,
a black widow? Perhaps not;
this one is beautiful in its symmetry,
its elegant legs, long and slender,
lethal in its aesthetic.

I look at it and shudder.
What would I do if it bit,
sinking its venomous fangs
into my flesh? Where would I go

for treatment, and would my flesh
decay around the bite, necrotic lesions
until little is left of the healthy
meat? I imagine no further than that
and bring my foot down hard,
squishing it flat.

Later, and for the long days ahead,
                     I think of its beauty,
how often the beautiful is terrible
in its lethality, how not even God
can save us from a petty
though sacred desire to stamp it out.


Dale Ritterbusch is the author of Lessons Learned:
Poetry of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath, and Far
From the Temple of Heaven. He was twice selected to be
the Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of
English & Fine Arts at the United States Air Force
Academy. His creative work is currently being archived in
the Department of Special Collections at La Salle
University.