De-Bugging the Cactus of Life

Saguaro visitor.jpg

Childhood exposure to classic western movies has left me with a love of cacti. Best of all are the huge saguaro cacti that stand tall, arms branching proudly, in the desert landscapes of the Americas.

Some cacti attract small insects that damage them, but these insects can be neutralised by careful use of a fine paintbrush and some methylated spirits. When the insects die they turn a gorgeous carmine colour, the basis for the making of the dye cochineal.

This poem makes use of that as a metaphor for a woman surviving domestic abuse, amongst other meanings.

There’s a Big Saguaro Cactus in Her Conservatory

 All day she speaks to shadows in her home:

through the nights too she mutters –

each shade hides well in darkness

bar one,

the candelabra-armed homunculus

thrown stark on moonlight’s wall.


This is Him, arms poised to strike.


Her care for Him is exemplary:

just enough water, just enough fresh earth –

but the fastidious spine-tingling

is her sober, voracious obsession,

her war on each demon insect He incubates.


Delicately dipping fine-point brush

into neon mauve-heady meths,

she dabs and stipples and stabs

with precise pointilist skill.


Nestling and nuzzling in the interstices

and clefted grooves of the cactus

each trilobite bug grinds tiny incisors,

scalpels sump-holes in His succulent flesh.


Until, that is, this feather-touch intervenes,

hand-tinting these literal worms in the bud

with violent fumes of a violet death.


One subtle touch of noxious spirit

and each pale parasite floods red,

cochineals in liquid suffocation,

is marooned in scarlet bead-prick.


A stroke here, a more spreading daub there –

suddenly her terrors rust with richest red,

cease to gnaw and to suckle:

their paralysis is swift, ruthless, writheless.


His dark secret love no longer destroys

when she spirit-quills His piercing threat,

and her own needle-sharp memories.

Ted x