March 2024

Back to Issue 15

Emperor Gum Moth

By Giles Watson

The last time I felt and held Emperor Gum moths

There were two of them – a female and a male

Crawling on my arms where my father put them

When I woke up after camping in the Brindabellas.

I was only four – and the moths were bigger

Than both my hands held together mothlike 

Clasping at the thumbs – their bodies thick

As my father’s own thumbs or the fat cigars

He sometimes smoked – the eyespots 

On their forewings reminding me of owls.

It’s the quiver of their wings I remember most –

And how their bodies seemed like incarnations

Of the scent of Eucalyptus.

                                                 Now – fifty years later

One comes to the window with wings still crimped

From breaking out of pupa – fatly battering

Against the bright-lit window – bashing through

Spider webs – hurling his stubby thorax against the panes.

It takes me time to catch him – he is frantic – his flapping

Drastic – those false eyes flashing – an artificial blinking

With the slapping of the wings.  Frightened spiders dash

For cover – their webs asunder – and suddenly the moth

Drops into my palm as if in surrender.  I cup my hands

About him – trying not to smear the scales as he clutches 

At my jumper.  I hunch and rush with him – away from light

Off into the trees amid darkness and kamikaze swarms

Of fungus gnats drowning themselves in the wet of my eyes

And flying up my nostrils.  I try to get the moth

To cling close to a trunk – but he drops to ground

And folds himself into a leaf – sits awhile – then flies –


And he has made me four again – entranced 

By that glimpse of reddish feathered antennae

And the mad smashing flash of those stark unseeing eyes.