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American Life in Poetry

Sun., Nov. 24, 2013

Nancy Willard, who lives in New York state, is one of my favorite poets, a writer with a marvelous gift for fresh description and a keen sense for the depths of meaning beneath whatever she describes. Here’s a poem from her newest book.

The Vanity of the Dragonfly

The dragonfly at rest on the doorbell –

too weak to ring and glad of it,

but well mannered and cautious,

thinking it best to observe us quietly

before flying in, and who knows if he will find

the way out? Cautious of traps, this one.

A winged cross, plain, the body straight

as a thermometer, the old glass kind

that could kill us with mercury if our teeth

did not respect its brittle body. Slim as an eel

but a solitary glider, a pilot without bombs

or weapons, and wings clear and small as a wish

to see over our heads, to see the whole picture.

And when our gaze grazes over it and moves on,

the dragonfly changes its clothes,

sheds its old skin, shriveled like laundry,

and steps forth, polished black, with two

circles buttoned like epaulettes taking the last space

at the edge of its eyes.

Poem copyright 2012 by Nancy Willard, from “The Sea at Truro,” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by the Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

 

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