Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Mopani Worms

    in memory of an African childhood

Smooth as glass and cold as yoghurt
to the touch, they are dressed today
in the colours of grandmother's leftover knitting.
Ribs and rows of orange, yellow, black
and white announce their edible plumpness
in brazen stripes.

I, too, am dressed for the occasion, wear my purple
trumpet-flower gloves to pluck them from the vine.

In the dirt near the chook house, boiling oil smokes
in a blackened tin. It's harvest time and we're taking a break
from wheelbarrow rides, turning cutworms
into compost, gorging on mulberries and nectarines.

Our plastic buckets seethe and brim. The paint tin
hisses, mouth wide open to sacrifice.

We drop them in, watch the fizzing oil unpick
the mopani worms' perfect mismatched colour.
Catherine wheels explode; petroleum swirls
spin towards the edges.

The worms are floating now, a ghostly knot
of shocked grey sticks. I shift the grass and dust
of Africa between my toes. The sweat on my lip
is ripe mango.

We scoop them up with a slotted spoon,
scatter them onto yellowed newspapers
a delicacy crisping with salt in the sun.


". . . Insects are eaten throughout Africa. Along with grasshoppers, termites, and others, at least forty types of caterpillars are utilized as food across much of Africa; the most widespread of these is the mopane worm, the larva of Imbrasia belina, a large and lovely saturnid moth. Named after the mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane), their food source, the mopane [or mopani] worm appears to be the most collected and sold edible insect species in the world. . . "  To find out more about Mopani worms, click here.  


Welcome back to a new year of Tuesday Poem

This week's editor is TP curator Mary McCallum.  Mary is featuring the stirring poem - Last Rescued Bird - by wildly, widely-published Seattle-based poet, Therese Clear (a favourite of mine, too!).  


  1. Oh, the visual image that you conjure up of the Mopani worms in the first stanza begs the reader to consume (excuse the pun!) I particularly like the description of the skin 'cold as yoghurt'. Stunning! Thanks, Claire!

  2. I love this for the unknown activity and world it bursts open -and there is so much to love about the poem esp. the way you describe these creatures using domestic metaphors e.g. granny's knitting. Lovely. I especially love the 'shocked grey sticks' and the 'grass and dust of Africa between my toes' and the taste of ''ripe mango'. Oh. I wish I remembered Africa. I left too young. I remember a garden. A heat.

  3. Thank you, Elizabeth. Thank you, Mary. I wondered whether this poem might discomfort some readers, but here you are, game for cool worms!

    Your comments reminded me of a giant farbic mopani worm I made for my ex-husband one birthday when our children were still little. It was a truly ugly thing, constructed from hessian and left-over velvet (velvet was all the rage back then) and it sprouted nasty orange and purple hairs the length of its spine. The children and I thought it was brilliant! We draped the metre-long worm in the branches of our grape vine as a surprise. Those were the days, eh? Perhaps I should make another one, for the pure fun of it - why ever not?!

  4. Mary McC - how long did you spend in Africa? Lovely to know you remember a garden. And heat. The body and mind will have drunk it all in. xo

  5. Great images here, Claire. Grandmother's knitting, trumpet flower gloves, catherine wheels and more.

  6. Once again, I am a passenger in your time machine as the past becomes so real and present. All my senses respond to the poem, texture, temperature, color, the sound of words. I've been thousands of miles from home and we've only just finished breakfast.

  7. Even though you mention their "edible plumpness" in the first stanza, your "delicacy crisping" at the end completely took me by surprise! (And, as Marylinn states, "thousands of miles from home" -- all BEFORE breakfast!)

  8. Lovely choice of verse today, I hunger for more.

  9. Hi Gordon - it's been an interesting time of reconnecting with childhood experiences. I can vividly recall the flawless, waxy texture and velvety warmth of those trumpet flowers. I'd construct the 'gloves' one chubby finger at a time. . . once done/donned, I felt like a queen. (The ninny part of me also needed a 'protective something' between me and those squirmy worms! I had no trouble handling silkworms or big juicy green caterpillars, but there was something about the mopanis - it was more than their spikiness, I think. Perhaps those trumpet gloves added something ceremonial to what was in fact a rather gruesome harvest?!)

  10. Dear Marylinn - I love the way the internet makes what might once have been impossible, possible. It amazes me daily that because of it we are able to share our lives - whether present or past or 'yet in the making'.

    I think often of your lines 'It is all one water - a finger in a tide pool brings us all together.' The web is in many ways an ocean - a great connector. It no longer matters where in the world we are, not what the time is? Putting it slightly differently, Salvador Dali said 'When we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another.' Could it be that the internet is shedding new light on the meaning of the universal unconscious and on global consciousness? My hunch is 'yes' and that we are privileged indeed to be living in these times.

    I feel daily fortunate to be traveling with you and this wonderful community. Right now, the sun is shining in both our hemispheres! L, C x

  11. Dear T - how often do I enjoy your posts with my breakfast? Pretty much daily - - - which is quite a big thought, really. (Thank you.).

    (And I've found myself scrutinizing my punctuation even more closely than usual since you declared yourself and Paul 'punctuation nerds'!) Ha! Your influence is far-reaching.

    L, C xo

  12. Steve, hello. Each time I visit your deep-winter prairie landscape, I'm struck by how richly varied our natural world is. For all that's different between 'there' and 'here', there is much that is the same? The earth calls us to awe and appreciation wherever we are. Being able to share the things that move us about the places we live in widens our experience of the world. Thank you.

  13. --chook . . . smokes . . . scoop . . . scatter!

    I like these sounds!

  14. How wonderfully strange that moment of your life is, Claire. I confess to being queasy at the thought, but those dear trumpet flower gloves, the grass and dust of Africa between your toes, the sweat on your lip ripe mango--the reader somehow becomes you, and by the end of the poem, is licking the taste of mango off in anticipation of 'a delicacy crisping in the sun'. I didn't think I would be tempted. . .thank you for this poem.

  15. You had me from the mention of grandmother's knitting - it brought back instant memories of wonderful striped jumpers using up odd balls of wall

  16. Eating these critters is an acquired taste..but reading this poem is a gift..just brilliant!!

  17. A beautiful poem. You make Africa and insect eating romantic.

  18. Dear M - life is punctuated by (some very) strange moments! The closer we lean in and look at the details, the more this seems to be so? Dullness is not a feature. . . aren't we fortunate?

    And M, those worms made me queasy, too! (Perhaps it was I who became a shocked grey stick.) My brother wasn't in the least perturbed, but boys might be differently keyed into these sorts of things? xo

  19. Hello Mim - I love that you attribute a sound quality to 'smoke'. Thank you! L, C

  20. Hi Catherine - (your name is in this poem!). Grandmothers' knitting (pl) evokes a rush of nostalgia for me, too. My GM used to come over each Thursday afternoon with her sewing and knitting bags. I still have the knitting needle 'carry-roll' that my Mum made for her three or four decades ago. Why, just the other day my daughter and I picked out a pair for a scarf she's knitting. I'm knitting a mopani worm scarf (with leftover balls!) and she's knitting a much more elegant silver-grey and white mohair scarf. My aging throat would be better-served by her soft wool than by the sensible blanket-type wool I'm using. Then again, it's more about the knitting side-by-side than the object-at-the-end. . . I wonder if you're knitting anything at the moment. (It tends to be an activity I associate with the winter months). Take care up in Chch, Catherine. We think of you.

  21. Lyn - thanks for your feedback; watching the final ritual was enough for me. I left the eating to others!

  22. Hi Kass - Africa is a darkly romantic continent, yes; a place of sometimes misdirected passions, cruelty and conflict, but also of exquisite sensitivity and richness. One of the things I love most about her are her stories, so many of which speak of our connection & relationship to animals and the land. When I remember these stories, she reminds me of what we so easily lose in our fast-paced, so-called 'sophisticated' lives. Always good to see you've been here, Kass. Thanks.