I’ve been waking up with fungus gnats in my room.

They are harmless and small, and yet
as I watch them I feel nervous
kind-of-irritated and
jumbled and

I kill my house-mates sometimes.
Not most, but some:

The ones that overtake my pets
The ones that overtake my home

Not just as a reflex,
but as a decision.
It’s something I’ve arrived at.

does that make it worse?

The rule I try to keep (to convince myself I’m being fair)
is that

I Must Do Everything I Can Do
to Encourage These Bugs
to Dislike My Home

The penalty for breaking this rule is facing my willingness to kill.

This morning, like each morning this week, the confrontation happens as soon as my alarm goes off

the fly strip that hangs above my bed is ornamented with two dozen bodies

This morning, like each morning this week, I start my day by thinking
about gnats
and about death

The ache we feel from the death of another being is so largely determined by the experiences we’ve had with that being, or the experiences we’ve had with a being that that being reminds us of.

Someone with the same name we knew in grade school
The neighbor’s dog
The first plant we cared for

Alone, I don’t find this too painful to acknowledge
What is harder to admit is that I care less about the lives of beings that I don’t know

Dust mites,
for example

Though they may be my lifelong neighbors,
I have never asked them for anything,
They have never filed a noise complaint on me
In 25 years, I have hardly acknowledged them at all.

Dust mites do not remind me of anyone.

They are arachnids
and perhaps, If I had a microscope,
I might be reminded of the jumping spider
who paused to look at me
and, after some time,
determined I was patient enough to climb
And who I took
to a spot that I knew
might have something to eat
and somewhere to hide

I think it would be interesting to take care of something unfamiliar each year.
A caterpillar one year, an onion the next, a dust mite the year after that

And to truly care for that caterpillar,
Or that onion
Or that dust mite
as I might care for something more familiar
like a cat

And to look at them every day and wonder,
“what do you need

to be healthy,
to be happy,
to be unafraid,
to grow”

And to confide in them,
if only half-seriously,
knowing that they will never feel the weight of my secrets, but feeling comforted that
they are listening

Or even just hearing

To prepare their food
To call them by a nickname
To argue sometimes
To fear their inevitable death

If I did this with a fungus gnat, then
what would I think of the strip hanging above my head?

And why should that make the difference?

I can’t imagine trapping squirrels by the dozen in my room
and forgetting about them
by the time I’ve made coffee

Is it more difficult because they’re bigger
or because they look more like the hamster I had when I was 8?

I do not want to love something only because it has impacted me

if pillbugs and squirrels
were the same
I would never walk through grass again

how could I wash my sheets,
knowing they contain the dust mites
in whom I’ve confided
all of my secrets,
even if only half-seriously?

—Mitchell D. Webb