by Roxanne Varzi

Listen to the audio version of this essay here

The moth will come to the light, and you will come to the moth.

 

I am not a hunter.

Then choose a different class. Warrior, Paladin, Cleric, Shaguawin?

The small gaping mouth of plastic , lid open, poised in my palm, at the ready … slips
And the moth escapes because,
I am not a hunter.

He will die if we don’t feed him.

We will release him, or he goes hungry.

He’s family.

I am not a hunter.

Husband is practiced at this art of catch and release. He hunts the things that slink in past the boundary: spiders, silverfish, moths and flies, and releases them back into their own world. And so I let him catch the fly, slowly, slide it into the jar.

We are neither of us killers. But we are all frozen witness watching as the Mantis leaps from praying to prey.

My snail is a vegetarian. Why can’t your mantis eat a carrot?

He cannot become what he is not.

Then don’t ask me to hunt.

Then make a choice. He eats the fly turn to page 20.

The mantis and the moth. Photo by Roxanne Varzi.

Page 20

He bites at the bottom and then moves to a delicate appetizer of wings, legs and makes a meal of the head. He drops crumbs of black flecks.

Can I change my mind?

The fly gets away, turn to page 37. Roll the dice.

He opens his palm, the die is red with shiny gold numbers — a Dodecahedron
of fate.

That’s not a choice.

There are twelve possibilities.

*Page 37.
Your mantis is starving, you go back out in search of a fly. You come upon a town shuttered by plague. Eyes watch you behind closed doors as you move down the silent, empty streets, weapon of cloth, your handy mask at the ready.

That’s my weapon?

It has a hit-point of 80! A vampire Leaps out of nowhere. What will you do?
Spray him with Clorox, go to page 26
Run, go to page 27*

Spray and spray and spray, hoping to kill the invisible before it kills you, mother, hunter, killer.

Page 26
The spray erupts into an aerosol that disperses as quickly and reaches as far as his cough.

Is aerosol real or imagined?

*It won’t matter how much you spray, but it will matter if he is not fed. It will matter if the Paladin goes alone.

What Paladin?

From the mist of disinfectant a beautiful Paladin emerges, tall and Black and powerful.

Race?

Human.

Say Her name.

She has many names. She seeks fighters for justice. It is time to take down the old guard. Are you a warrior?

I am not a fighter.
She is headed to the epicenter of the pandemic, they will eat the heart of the rotten apple. They will spit it out and re-plant the seeds.
To join her go to page 55.
To slink away to safety go to page 100.

Slink away? Son, when you say it like that it’s hardly a choice.

Words have a hit point of 100. I am a bard. There is always a choice.*

Do nothing … nothing without do, a verb that becomes air. Your adjective? Complicit.

*Why do you get to choose bard when I am condemned to hunter?
I am not a hunter.

Because you chose mother class and she must feed.*

Obsess over the virus, but hunger is the more eminent danger. Human race is the most dangerous player.

*I choose bard.

You chose mother.

Can’t I be both?

Is that your choice?

Yes.

Go to page 1.

But it is empty.

Exactly. Begin again.*

Author’s note:

My son escapes to the world of Dungeons and Dragons and begs me to join him in this game of chance, where like Covid, every roll of the dice matters. It’s a game of risk and momentary empowerment where we fight invisible enemies in order to avoid the all too real ones. Fight or flight?

In the stillness when all of the noise and movement of late suburban capitalism grinds to a halt, the beauty and surprise of bugs, birds and bees creep in closer and closer. Like the Mantis we catch and keep in a glass jar, this is life in lockdown. Powerless over the pandemic, in fear of an invisible virus, watching the world go hungry, watching “democracy” die. Fight or Flight?

Then, in the real world the unexpected opportunity for change with the BLM movement. Suddenly risk meets resistance, to participate in the game, in the outside world, in writing as half my mind stays on statistics and symptoms and safety, on feeding and caring and staying hopeful for my family while mourning the loss of a world that never really existed.

Cite as: Varzi, Roxanne. 2020. “Mother Bard, Fight or Flight? An Ethnography of May.” In “Flash Ethnography,” Carole McGranahan and Nomi Stone, editors, American Ethnologist website, 26 October 2020, [https://americanethnologist.org/features/collections/flash-ethnography/mother-bard-fight-or-flight-an-ethnography-of-may]

Roxanne Varzi is an anthropologist at the University of California at Irvine. She is author of Last Scene Underground: An Ethnographic Novel of Iran (Stanford University Press, 2015).