I was talking to an antique dealer in Kolkata a few months ago about restoring a grand old four poster bed made of finest Burma teak. It had probably been the resting place of British Officers recuperating after long hard days of governing my country in the way you might stir a nest of insects. The bed had been clumsily painted at some point so he said he would sand it back down to the wood and stain it. Presenting various options to me over the phone, the one he could highly recommended as the most rich and lustrous he described as the colour of a cockroach. So that ‘s what I got.
by Muriel Rukeyser
(from The Gates, 1976)
For that I never knew you, I only learned to dread you,
for that I never touched you, they told me you are filth,
they showed me by every action to despise your kind;
for that I saw my people making war on you,
I could not tell you apart, one from another,
for that in childhood I lived in places clear of you,
for that all the people I knew met you by
crushing you, stamping you to death, they poured boiling
water on you, they flushed you down,
for that I could not tell one from another
only that you were dark, fast on your feet, and slender.
Not like me.
For that I did not know your poems
And that I do not know any of your sayings
And that I cannot speak or read your language
And that I do not sing your songs
And that I do not teach our children
to eat your food
or know your poems
or sing your songs
But that we say you are filthing our food
But that we know you not at all.
Yesterday I looked at one of you for the first time.
You were lighter than the others in color, that was
neither good nor bad.
I was really looking for the first time.
You seemed troubled and witty.
Today I touched one of you for the first time.
You were startled, you ran, you fled away
Fast as a dancer, light, strange and lovely to the touch.
I reach, I touch, I begin to know you.
Here is the perfect organism. It attained perfection 300 million years ago. Since then almost nothing about it has needed to change for it fit into its environment here on earth. It is an example of beauty. An ideal marriage of form and function.
This particular fossil also happens to be a holotype. That is to say it is stored here at the museum as a reference for researchers. It is the three dimensional dictionary definition of ‘cockroach’.