Because you’ve never seen one, you ask me about stag beetles

What can I tell you now that they’re so rare?
Every childhood May or June they came at dawn and dusk,

mostly in ones and twos, sometimes formation clouds
buzzing, black belly-drop, fuzzy sphere of wings.

If they grounded, we children hounded them with sticks
never with fingers, school playground scrums

awe-struck and afraid. Where does fear come from?
They were big, but no more so than mice.

We would watch the split-back beetle’s armour
open, watch transparent wings unfold, and would run

as it lifted, screaming under its flight. I don’t think teachers
ever mentioned them. We learnt of caterpillars

and their change to butterflies, but giant beetles
were a playground thing, from forbidden wasteground

locked away behind strong fences. I still have dreams
about that wasteground, the locked gate, and the times

— surely there were truly times — when it was open
and we explored steep undergrowth, fallen trees.

Was it really there? It must have been. I take a beetle
from my memory, show you its reddish-black hugeness.



Barbara Cumbers lives in London. She has had many poems published in various magazines and small press anthologies. Her first collection, A gap in the rain, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2016.