“Little Pretty Things” by Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn


As insects go, lacewings seem to have nothing to catapult
them into significance, most of the time just showing off
for the centipedes and sawflies. I imagine they envy
wasps their ability to make a house for themselves,
and boll-weevils their cottony usefulness. It seems
lacewings have nothing to do but be beautiful,
and so are dangerous. I’ve known a few
of their human counterparts, and have been fooled
by their slender bodies, the golden alertness
of their eyes, and for a while have forgiven a meanness,
even a cruelty, at their core.
Lacewings suck the bodily fluids
of aphids and other soft bodied creatures,
and devour their unhatched eggs. I suppose cruelty
has an evolutionary purpose, but whatever it is
I’ve learned to be wary of little pretty things
that exhibit it.
I can see some perverse nobility
in the Asian Tiger mosquito that needs nothing
more than a dab of blood from a few of us
before it lays itself down to die. And the behavior
of the Praying Mantis after sex has become part
of the inhuman comedy. I hear that in some cultures
lacewings are called stinkflies because of an odor
they emit to deter enemies. I don’t know who
or what these enemies are, but I hope enough exist
to save this world from creatures that stink and murder
and look graceful, gorgeous even, in the doing.

from Rattle #60, Summer 2018
Tribute to Athlete Poets


Stephen Dunn: “The poetry that ends up mattering speaks to things we half-know but are inarticulate about. It gives us language and the music of language for what we didn’t know we knew. So a combination of insight and beauty. I also liken the writing of it to basketball—you discover that you can be better than yourself for a little while. If you’re writing a good poem, it means you’re discovering things that you didn’t know you knew. In basketball, if you’re hitting your shots, you feel in the realm of the magical.” (web)

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