Ode to a Cockroach Killed Trying to Get From Here to There

We all have our places in life where we fit into the scheme of animal evolution. Even the lowly cockroaches are useful in the outdoors because they help recycle plant and animal waste, and they were here long before humans. As one who hates to kill anything, even bugs, I started thinking a bit on what it must be like trying to live out your life as a cockroach when I found a poem to a cockroach. Written by Muriel Rukeyser , a  modern poet who died in the early 1980s, “St. Roach” was published in her book of poetry, THE GATES, in 1976.  

A few years ago I was in a shopping mall food court in Las Vegas, planning to have a bite of lunch. For some reason the food court was very crowded that day, so I took my tray and sought a table in an overflow section down a side corridor. What I like do when I’m the only person in the whole dining area eating alone is watch people come and go.

So I’m sitting there looking around, trying not to look too conspicuous, when I notice a cockroach on the floor near me. It, or should I say “he”, was headed across what was, for him, a great big concrete freeway. I could have notified one of the food providers because I’m sure they wouldn’t exactly want people to know there were cockroaches anywhere near a food court, but I didn’t.

I felt sorry for him because I knew he probably had only a 50/50 chance of making it across without getting stepped on. Being alone as I was, and when going home alone meant spending the evening alone because Hubby was out of town, I felt some bizarre  kindred spirit with this little creature, who could arguably be called one of God’s too. I decided to keep quiet. If he made it across in one piece, he deserved to live just as much as anyone else.

It wasn’t long before a group of women with store nametags on their sweaters finished their lunches and got up to leave. I kept my eye on the roach, practically holding my breath. When the half-dozen or so feet had all scurried away and dust had settled, he was still there, having scooted under the table. He sat still a moment or two, gathering his wits perhaps, and started off again. 

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a young woman pushing one of those old-timey baby perambulators towards us. I wondered what were the chances of this cockroach outmaneuvering the four, narrow rolling wheels and two shoe bottoms to boot. Wonder of wonders, he managed quite nicely, and was almost all the way across to the other side when a suit-clad gentleman with dress shoes that looked spit-shined sauntered our way from one of the shops nearby.

Before I could say squat that poor little cockroach was smashed to smithereens and heading out the mall plastered onto the bottom of that man’s shoe, I can’t even tell you which shoe. Wah la! One minute he’s there (the poor little cockroach) and the next he’s not. No matter where he was headed, whether home to the missus, or off to the (cockroach) races, to pick up the baby cockroaches from daycare, he would never make it now.

I’d finished my lunch by this time and had begun to gather up my trash for the bins, but this unfortunate outcome caused me to sit back down and do a bit of thinking. In the first place, I know that it’s silly to anthropomophise cockroaches, but they are only doing what nature designed them to do after all. Sure they carry disease, but humans do a lot of things bad for people too. And when you really think about it, are we humans that much better?

I wonder how we’d feel if there were even bigger beings than we, who we’d daily have to maneuver through on our own huge concrete freeways – hoping to get from here to there and do what we’re here to do – without getting squashed.