interlude: the swan describes the war

by Maria Zoccola

the first day, the big cheese sends half a can of waspkill into the nest on the porch. not truly a nest. a clump of gold and black bodies moving over and around each other, fixed at the join of siding and gutter. they fall to the cement with a sound like pap, pap, pap, stiff brown wings locked back against their abdomens. but there is a new clump on the swing chain the second day, and he has to buy more cans of waspkill from home depot. this nest rises when he begins to spray. he stands in the drive and shoots them out of the air with quick streams from the can, like hunting doves in the season, and he takes them all, or most of them, enough of them that his hands are burning where the can is leaking at the nozzle. but on the third day there are more. they have come from somewhere else, or maybe they are the same hornets, knocked down but not killed, stubbornly mounding up on the porch light. on this day the kid has to go to school. he takes her around back and makes her run past the porch, run to the bus. don’t stop, he roars when she cranes her neck to look at the seething mass of them. faster. get out of here. he goes back to home depot. on the fourth day he walks the perimeter like a warden, spray locked in his peeling fist. he doesn’t see anything, but he wets down the roofline anyway, spraying in one continuous stream. he peers under eaves and behind peels of paint. he looks inside the gutter. when he finds the hornets, there are only three or four left. they aren’t moving. they are huddled together where the roof curls over the front walk. he sprays them, but they don’t fall. he keeps spraying. the white foam builds up around the hornets until he can’t see their bodies anymore. where is helen? i don’t know, or else i would tell you. i would be telling you about helen and not about the big cheese. but i don’t know where she has gone.

Maria Zoccola is a queer Southern writer with deep roots in the Mississippi Delta. She has writing degrees from Emory University and Falmouth University. Her work has previously appeared in Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. Learn more about her work at