American Giant Millipede · Oak Hill Trail

American Giant Millipede

by Mary Quade

Iron-red tube,
thick as a pinky
and often longer,
it undulates along the
forest floor in darkness,
cleaning up the dead.
Besides the legs, there’s
nothing much to see, its
armor plain and shiny—
no wings, no spots, no
fleshy abdomen exposed,
no fateful stinger.
Only a snub head, short
antennae, waving, dull eyes
not seeming to see.
Not venomous,
unlike the centipede—
that flat biter hunting
in the basement.
But poisonous; when
unsettled, it curls up—
hard exoskeleton, a shield;
legs spooning legs—
and oozes yellow toxins,
untasty to a creature
seeking out a fat bug.
I’ll admit, they unsettle
me a little, their constant
crawling, an iron train of
segments—on each: two pairs
of legs moving in waves
along the ground, grasping
at decay. I can barely
keep track of my own
two feet beneath me; every
stick, every rock, every mud
puddle—a potential stumbling.
Or worse, a fall. But a
millipede can’t fall, except
further into earth, where
it builds a burrow to molt
into a new self, soft,
at first, then once again solid,
a larger thing which will
consume at least some of its
exuvia, its former skin.
Here is something, though:
when a female lays her eggs,
for each she creates a pellet of
chewed plants and her feces,
where she entombs the egg,
then passes that pellet along
her legs into her anal valve,
which closes on the tiny
wet nest, drying it in the kiln
of her body, until it emerges
a hard ball, both a shell
and a hatchling’s meal.
What measures we all
will take to make
a future.

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