Odes to Fleas: 200 Years Dead and 200 Alive


On a visit to the Tate Gallery in London, while attending graduate school summer 1980, I saw a miniature painting titled The Ghost of a Flea painted in 1819 by William Blake. Blake is one of the greatest English poets. He also did experimentation with engraving, printing, and color illustrations of his own work, notably Dante’s classic Divine Comedy. He was asked by his friend John Varley to sketch paintings of “visionary heads” in Varley’s dreams. Twenty-nine years later here on Tinian, I found my postcard with that Ghost of a Flea painting on it. It brought back memories of the painting and flea bites I now have from two stray dogs I have been feeding since Super Typhoon Yutu. The dogs are gone but the fleas are not. These sonnets honor the 200th anniversary of the painting and 200 living fleas. Fleas dead and alive were my muse. Some fleas are not amusing. I hope the sonnets are delights and not annoying bites.
Ode to the Ghost of a Flea
A parody of William Wordsworth’s Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, completed in 1815).
There was a time when human, cat, and dog
their hair, their skin, everyday common sight
to me did seem to be inviting me to alight on
their body and enjoy their taste in sun and fog.
It is not now as it was before. I fly where I may
ghost thru walls and windows by night and day
animals and people I have bitten I taste no more
yet my death is not just sleeping and forgetting.
As a ghost I still remember the blood of my host
and how my bites caused itching and sweating
of those flea annoyances I can proudly boast
my ghost lives on some two hundred years hence
Since William Blake in an 1819 miniature painted me
I gave up the ghost but remain the ghost of a flea.
Ode to the Ghost of Another Flea
“I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high
o’er vale and hills…”
—William Wordsworth, 1804
I flew around a ghostly flea quite proud
above hills, dales, trails and sandy beach
around hikers and summer vacation crowd
all tempting bites just within my reach.
Now like hot gas and stars that shine
cool light along the Milky Way
no warm flesh will ever be mine
on hills, trails or along the bay
Of these bodies filled with blood and life
I thirsted for a single tiny little bite
my plight a ghostly flea with strife
I see the skin but useless to alight
now thru present day and future fly
I miss my flea life that I can’t deny.

Joey aka Pepe Batbon is a retired educator who taught in the CNMI, NOLA, and LVNV. He is a sonnet practitioner who enjoys stargazing.


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