Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Love and Death in a Brooklyn Bookshelf

Late yesterday a wasp flew into the room and headed into the bookcase, top shelf. I chased it out, carefully.

While I was eating breakfast (boiled egg) this morning it flew in again, and headed straight back to the same spot. Out! I told it. It flew out the door again, and then back...Oy.

Then I heard a miniature squeaking noise. From the bookcase. I peered in. The wasp was busy doing something. Making a house...

I took the book down to take a picture of the wasp house and dropped it. Oops. The house broke, and when I began to sweep it up I noticed something very unexpected: spiders! In the tiny house were packed...spiders!

I counted eight. The creepy part is that they weren't dusty, dry carcasses: they seemed fresh, supple.
Then I remembered.
Wasps paralyse their spider-victims. And lay their eggs in them. While they are alive.
Just last week I had re-read Once at KwaFubesi*, a favourite collection of short stories for children by Marguerite Poland, about South African animals and insects (fairly dark, yes, and superbly well-written and gorgeously illustrated by Leigh Voigt):
Two bad blaasop, sorcerer-frogs are trying to oust Lumko, the local sangoma baboon spider. They make up a dummy wasp and lay it down near her burrow, unbeknownst to her:
"She started down the path, thumping the drum and shaking her rattles. She was so preoccupied that she did not notice the pompilid wasp until she was almost upon it. She recoiled in terror, falling backwards, her beads scattering, her drum rolling noisily into a bush.
'Oh, Oh,' she cried, unable to move.
She knew that the wasp would advance, paralyse her, and then drag her away to its hole. Afterwards its child would eat her alive, creeping up her legs to the round fatness of her body."
The book the wasp chose was The Romance of Cape Mountain Passes, by Graham Ross, with a picture of De Hel on the cover, a place about which I had been writing and thinking for a couple of days.

That wasp must stay away.
*Once at KwaFubesi, Marguerite Poland. Published 1981 by Ravan Press, Johannesburg. I believe it is out of print, which is criminal. Her books are classics, her writing often poetically moving, and should be read. They were a wonderful part of my childhood.


  1. LOL no wonder we have nightmares!

  2. Fascinating Marie! And you might like to know that it's hailing in Constantia this morning.

  3. Sorry, sorry, sorry! Computer illiterate me strikes again!

  4. Remind me to no longer read your blog while eating breakfast...

  5. i'm speechless!!
    i probably would have spent the whole time screaming if i had found that!

  6. How very, very cool! But what was the book the wasp was nesting on?

  7. Centvingt - yes! brrrrrrrrr.

    Anonymous Jay. Save the hail in the freezer.

    Sigrid: heheheheh: spider legs in your teeth, milk in your keyboard.

    Mary...well, there was a lot of shuddering!

    Thew: Cape Mountain Passes. They both involve engineering, I suppose, and sacrifice(convict labour = spiders?).

  8. I have a copy of Once At Kwa Fubesi with beautiful illustrations by Leigh Voigt. Interesting choice of book from the wasp's point of view.

  9. Hi Jane

    I also need to get my hands on The Mantis and the Moon, her book before that - I lent mine to someone decades ago and it never came home.

  10. Will bear it in mind when cruising the aisles of the second hand book shops.

  11. This is horrifying. Thank goodness you found it. I have been finding tiny tiny white spiders on my computer screen all week. They look no bigger than a poppy seed. Too small to be scary, but I cannot let them live, either...sorry...


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