the female Pediculus humanus capitis

(otherwise known as the female louse)

lives approximately 40 days

during which she spends her life

(as ectoparasites do)

roaming the human scalp,

a thick bamboo forest of hair,

a follicular dome that waves overhead,

broken only by the occasional freckle

or peeling mound of dander

 

this is her universe

 

daily she feasts on human blood

drawn from a tasty cranial plate

and when the time is right

(usually 17 days in)

she meets a dashing fellow louse

under the dense keratin waves

in the shadow behind the ears

or the soft rise at the nape of the neck

 

they unite, two clear globular bodies

making love atop a scalp

where the nits will soon arrive

in dark little sacs

that stubbornly cling to locks and curls,

impervious to any threat

but a fine-toothed comb

and a toxic lather

 

after this interlocking event

the female louse

spends the remaining 23 days

of her pediculus existence

popping out a small nit capsule

at the top of every other hour

 (“Would you excuse me?” she says,

over a hemoglobin lunch,

“Baby on the way.”)

 

to give birth until you die

is a strange life indeed

but perhaps no stranger

than our own globe

where we furiously scurry

round and round, hoping for a chance at love

or – if not that – to at least be spared the fine-tooth comb

that would make our short little lives

even shorter

 

and we scratch our heads

itching to understand

what lies between first breath and last,

a question the female louse will never consider,

as she cycles through molts and sheddings,

as she crawls and creeps

through a field of tresses,

her tiny, pregnant body a brief proof

that strange lives can still be done

without all the answers