c. 1950 | Madagascar

Clothing the Dead

A poem of the Malagasy people.

What is a locust?
Its head, a grain of corn; its neck, the hinge
of a knife;
Its horns, a bit of thread; its chest is smooth   
and burnished;
Its body is like a knife handle;
Its hock, a saw; its spittle, ink;
Its underwings, clothing for the dead.
On the ground—it is laying eggs;
In flight—it is like the clouds.
Approaching the ground, it is rain glittering in
the sun;
Lighting on a plant, it becomes a pair of
Walking, it becomes a razor;
Desolation walks with it.

© Faber and Faber Limited, London 1988.

About This Text

A poem of the Malagasy people. Locusts are believed to exist in two phases, solitary and gregarious, with noted changes in coloration, form, physiology, and behavior. When their habitats shrink and their population density increases—after drastic changes in weather, for example—locusts begin to give birth to offspring of the gregarious variety. In this nervous and aggressive state, they travel in swarms, covering up to eighty miles a day. One gregarious group, crossing the Red Sea in 1889, was estimated to be about two thousand square miles in size.