A gnat flew into my mouth while I was running this morning, and despite the customary courtesies — the coughing and hacking to set it free — it lingered at the back of my throat, then slipped inexorably into my gullet.
I was sad for a moment, but then not, because how likely is it, really, that an insect no bigger than the head of a pin would zoom with unerring accuracy into the slim crevasse of a runner’s lips, through which the breath’s wind blows as often out as in, and deliver itself to the pharynx?
My epiglottis tilts and the gnat descends, delicate celluloid wings now damp and useless, the six legs, thin as cilia, all akimbo, the sensitive antennae suffocated by sensation. The insect heart beating, beating, past the upper esophageal sphincter, along the pale pink mucosa, the tiny body swept down a dark tunnel of fiber and muscle, first striated, then smooth. The pulse fading in the airless passage through diaphragm into the lower esophageal sphincter, the exoskeleton beginning to yield as the gnat is carried toward the lip of that second muscular ring, beyond which lies a human stomach: Hydrochloric acid. Pepsin. Gastric lipase.
But then, light. Brilliant and at first strange, and in the dimming compound eyes a million mirrors. Everyone is here: the microscopic and the gigantic, all that ever lived, from time immemorial. The invisible bacteria and the paramecia, the amoebas with their soft false feet. The honeybees who died after stinging, or after their six weeks were up. The spiders and ladybugs. The earthworms and termites and moles: vision without eyes. The tadpoles who never became frogs; the snakes who shed their last skins. The kinglets and hummingbirds, the hawks and hens, the flickers with their wild calls: flight without wings. The feral cats, the friendly dogs; the skunks and deer. The horses and cows, the elephants and whales. The porcupines. The tigers. The gentle creatures, and the fierce. The humans; the flowers. And all the other gnats, from the moment the earth first drew breath.
It calls to me then, in its tiny gnat voice, in the last possible instant before that voice joins an infinite chorus, the moment before perception gives way, finally, to the knowledge that makes one of many, calls to me with an irrepressible joy and the certainty of the ages: Home!
I hear something: a faint buzz, maybe a whisper. A sensation, then, of lightness, fleeting and mysterious beneath my feet. An instant, and gone.
Still needing my body, I run on.
This post originally appeared in October 2016.