Oak Gall Wasp

Something like a wooden pearl, what gall
forms here, irritation’s
gemstone on the oak-
leaf-underneath I thought was a berry, seed-
case, or oak-faced
scrotum-like excrescence

the oak tree seemed to make of itself
in extremis involved
with power. For no
reason when we were girls plucking these woodland
BBs from the
branch to flick at the back

fence, about so much unsuspecting
I was mistaken by
meticulously more single-minded than
the mere widest
distribution of seed

over the furthest expanse; as I
follow American
history, small and
solitary, intravenously driven
living syringe
mainlined into the green

vein of oakleaf to position with
the earthly pulse of her
otherworldly self-
sufficient piercing ovipositor her
shimmering eggs,
the oak gall wasp is un-

American mother of the year.
Patriotism, meet
a biochemical je ne sais quoi charms the
of the oakleaf’s force to

form a cradle for each minuscule
egg something like the way
our human flesh scabs
over. And not just any oak—oak gall wasps
an oak known as your own

are implicit in every acorn,
including the sprouting
one you carried home
rolling slowly around the base of a wet
Dixie Cup your
first grade teacher told you

would, with patience, be as tall as you
one day, and capable
in time of crushing
you in bed, unsentimental consequence
of gravity
which is a consequence

of the curvature of spacetime, but
what isn’t? I sold the
house behind which my
son and I once planted such an acorn and
even enclosed
it in a pathetic

ring of prefabricated fencing
I fought counter-clockwise
against the coil to
unspool off a metal roll like a robot
fabric bolt to
shield it from the orphan

fawns. If that oak rises still, witness
to the sleep of someone
else’s child now through
an underestimated August storm, I
do not know, or
in what health, but if rise

it does, safe in her hyperbaric
chamber, as athlete gods
sleep between stages
on the tour de France, there the gall wasp grows in
my divestment.
Such a fundamental

hunger stirs in the oak gall dark, if
you listen you might hear
her chew her way out
of oakleaf where she incubates encrypted
in her first meal.
Unless—and this is life

on earth, as much a miracle of
drudgery and lust as
you or me or the
gall wasp— another even more strategic
to-the-second power

brood parasite wasp oak-injects with
finer, more exacting
a second egg. The two sister together
in the waspworld
prenatal ritual

juices, downloading the vital re-
directed principles
of oak into their
maturing, crackling bodies. You’ve been to sleep-
overs; girls grow
strong touching each other’s

bodies with stories of mutual
incrimination. What
confidence betrayed
then when duplicitous behind her back. To
emerge, as we
learned, wasps chew their exit

through the gall; but in the case of a
hosting wasp, she’s compelled
to stop by something
that most entomologists don’t read enough
novels to understand.

Whether social dynamics are more
or less legible to
an outsider, I’m
too far inside the gall to tell, since it was
I who dug the
hole, placed the acorn, shooed

the beast, and waited for the oak to
leaf that the gall wasp could
deposit there her
egg inspiring thus the oak to cradle it
that a second
wasp could parasitize

the parasite wasp—as is drawn out
over several seasons
of elaborate
out-maneuverings in parish, parlor, and
palace on the
BBC. But this is

an American transition of 
power. Don’t look away.
I don’t want to end
this poem bleeding but the wasp does eat the
wasp, and up through
the top of her head like

the goddess she is, enters the hell-
scape. It’s happening now;
it happened. Unless,
that is, through the bedroom window where sleeps the
child of someone
else now, the beautiful

oak I tenderly tended alread- 
y crashed.

Copyright © 2020 by Robyn Schiff. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 11, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.