The Caterpillars by Robin Wyatt Dunn

The Caterpillars by Robin Wyatt Dunn

They’re disguised; the same green as the leaves of the broccoli. He pulls them off the leaves, one by one, and they twitch in his hand, and he tosses them into the bucket of water. They’ve eaten most of the leaves; have grown fat on his work.

The soil may have too much nitrogen in it from the fertilizer he put into the clay; it’s attracted bugs. His garden stands all alone in the brown, little spots of green.

He stoops there, inspecting leaves, looking underneath each one, leaving the spider there because she is a friend, and cursing the caterpillars.

"Caterpillar on bluebonnets" image by Flickr user Michael

“Caterpillar on bluebonnets” image by Flickr user Michael

The tomatoes are growing well, though: they’re naturally alkaline, you can smell the oil if you rub the tomato leaves, keeping bugs away, making happy tomatoes.

He digs another hole for the lettuce and thinks about his ancestors scraping away like this, only with slightly inferior tools; subsistence farming. What a crack-up that must have been. But it feels right in his hands, this kind of learning, unearned but earned too, sweat and blisters and holes in dirt.

The cat is the neighbor’s cat, not his, but a friend, who is interested in caterpillars, and water, and especially freshly turned soil; it makes her crazy. The cat is a farmer.

The City is Orange, named for William of Orange, who was named for a Celtic river god of war. It has nothing to do with fruit, but with water, and war, two things Orange County knows all about. In the air, the electricity comes from the Department of Defense and is transmitted into the bloodstreams of the people, white and brown, nurtured with tears and stodgy but reliable weaponry: shovels, and belief.

He is growing a beard, because a beard is a kind of marker, something that reminds him that he is a man, even when everyone else has forgotten, like when the freshly turned soil makes him crazy, and like Naruda knew, the smell can make you sob.

Each caterpillar is hungry for life; greedy for it. They barely notice when he plucks them from the leaves; there will be more.

mugshotRobin Wyatt Dunn lives in southern California and is the author of three novels. He was born in the Carter Administration. You can find him at