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  • Writer's pictureCaleb Parkin

La Cucaracha

Before you start reading, do press play on this little film of ‘La Cucaracha’ to accompany you: it’s just so gosh darn chirpy.

In my ongoing exploration of all things verminous, I received Marion Copeland’s Reaktion book, ‘Cockroach’, last week. It’s fantastic: a rich cross-cultural-entomological medley of all things cockroach-y.

And there’s the point: there isn’t a word for things which are ‘of cockraoch’ (apart from their name with a ‘y’ on the end), whereas there are for lions (leonine), wolves (lupine), mice (murine) or even the worm (vermian – I like how much this sounds like ‘vermin’). Indeed, I’ve just checked, and the only two – err – ‘cock’ animals on the Animal Adjectives site are the peacock and woodcock. Even these have their own adjectives. They’re nice decorative feathery birds, after all.

It seems we humans would rather have a word for being like any other animal than the humble ‘roach. Having just looked on the Wikipedia site for animal words, not only is there no word for ‘roach-like’, but the collective noun for cockroaches is an ‘Intrusion’. Once again, we’re appalled at an animal so horribly, grotesquely, profusely…successful.

There are thousands of types of ‘roach, adapted to every environment in the world, and they’ve been here for 400 million years. It seems appropriate, then, that they should coincide with the remaining Deadly Sin for my Vermin pieces, that of Envy. Should they be envious of us?  Quite the contrary: such a steadfast survivor and long-term resident of Earth deserves our admiration, at the very least. Quietly and efficiently, ‘roaches have – and will continue to – be a main player on Earth’s stage.

So I’m working on something based on the pub-fact that ‘roaches will outlast us in the event of a nuclear holocaust. According to various accounts, this could well be true: as ‘roaches only shed their exoskeleton (becoming ‘instars’ of increasing size) at each stage of growth, their vulnerability to radiation is much less than our own. So if there was a short blast, most would be OK; although the sustained presence of radiation would start to cause them problems (and indeed adversely affect their sleek design through mutations).

Here’s an image of a mighty fine example of the ‘roach, the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. I held one of these at the Bristol Festival of Nature a couple of years ago and was pleasantly surprised by how calm, gentle and majestic these highly-efficient detritus feeders are. The one I held fastidiously cleaned the sweat (it was a hot day) from the lines in my palm: perhaps it was fortune-telling. How amazing, to use the run-off from a larger being as nourishment. In other aspects of their lives, there’s a lot we could learn from ‘roaches about using the things around us more effectively, efficiently and in accord with the System from which they – and we – emanate.

A majestic Madagascar Hissing Cockroach: palm-reader and inheritor of the Earth?

The ‘roach voice in my poem will be expounding on why we should indeed envy their hardy anatomy, from a post-apocalyptic setting. If anyone should be considered an ‘Intrusion’, from the perspective of the Earth, of time and of biology – ‘biocentrically’, as Copeland terms it – then it should certainly be humankind. We’ve been here but a breath and will certainly not outlast the ‘roach.

But think not, dear reader, on notions of our possible self-destruction. Instead, continue to feast your ears on La Cucaracha. While the humble roach might not have an adjective, it has a mighty fine theme tune…

And next time you might meet one, show a little respect: many are only around because we waste so much, and they’ll be running things soon enough.

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