Harlequin ladybird

Video link.

Part videopoem, part music video. The music is by the Polish composer efiel on Jamendo.com, who made it available for noncommercial remix with attribution under the same Creative Commons licence, so this whole video is also so licenced (BY-NC-SA). This is the acoustic version of his otherwise electronic single, Home, with the first instrumental break repeated twice to give me time to get the reading in. The singer (as we learn in the notes for his album 2, which is also available on Last.fm) is Joanna Szwej. The creatures in the video are the Asian or harlequin ladybird beetle, Harmonia axyridis, filmed swarming one of the windows in my house yesterday afternoon. Here’s the poem.

Harlequin Ladybird

The ladybird
is a hard pill,
a dose of red medicine.
Her dogged way
of walking &
the gleam on
her elytra suggest
a certain brittleness,
a gift for sudden
flights of rage.
You wouldn’t think
such a small mouth
could pack
such a painful bite.
Like everyone,
I found her cute
at first, until I realized
there were many more
versions of her, &
they had infiltrated
every crack. Now
she lets herself in
whenever she wants,
only to spend all
her time at
the window.
The pungent scent
of her defensive spray
permeates the house.
What is she afraid of?
I begin to suspect
that those delicate
underwings are really
an airmail letter
containing the last,
unwary words of someone
who perished in
a house fire, the way
she keeps unfolding
& refolding them —
two sheets of onionskin
tucked against a small,
bad heart.

A thorough revision of this poem.

18 Replies to “Harlequin ladybird”

  1. Love this, Dave, especially ‘airmail’, ‘two sheet of onionskin’ and more.

    Are you really infested with ladybirds? Our eldest daughter had them in one apartment she lived in and commented on their scent, not sure if it was the Harlequin.

    1. Oh, I’m sure it was. They’re world-wide, now, and go by a variety of names, including Asian ladybug and Halloween ladybug. I picked the British name here simply because it seemed the most evocative.

      There’s a video that goes with the poem, too, but I’m still processing it. I hope to be able to post it this afternoon. Then you’ll get a sense of just how numerous the ladybugs are here.

  2. Great piece of work Dave. GREAT!!! Incredibly more-ish. (I watched it once and wanted to do so again immediately!) A perfect balance of visuals, music and voice. Haunting and thought provoking.

    We don’t much like the Harlequin here in the UK as the species is ousting our own less aggressive native ladybirds. The same old story as the imported grey squirrel seeing off the red. Our old windows are infested with over-wintering ladybirds… not the Harlequins… but I don’t think they spray, or if they do, the scent isn’t noticeable. However I do sometimes get impatient with ferrying them outside on fine days to save them blundering about the windowpanes trying to find a way out! (Easier carrying them out through the front door than fighting with our ancient windows with their broken sash cords!)

    1. Hey, glad you liked that. Nice of you to ferry the beetles out. I mostly just ignore them, unless they’re right at the door, in which case I shoo them out. The windows, like yours, are are a great bother to try and open.

  3. What a wonderful poem, especially the lines:

    those delicate
    underwings are really
    an airmail letter
    containing the last,
    unwary words of someone
    who perished in
    a house fire, the way
    she keeps unfolding
    & refolding them

    I stopped by to thank you for the music link you left in Dick’s comments and got stopped in my tracks by your poem. Thank you for both.

  4. I love “pill” (pretty compact word, especially considering both senses of it) and “small, / bad heart.” Good, pill-sized words.

    And what is this about ill-tempered ladybugs? I remember reading Eric Carle’s The Grouchy Ladybug over and over to Bethany, and I’ve never seen them the same since.

    That’s quite a revision, and a very good one, too. I don’t think I’ve seen you post a poem and then post a revision of that poem in a different post, a la Dick Jones. I think it’s a great idea, and I appreciate the link to the poem’s earlier version.

    1. I haven’t seen that Eric Carle book, but it sounds spot on!

      “Revision” might not be as accurate as “self-plagiarization.” It’s really an entirely new poem starting with some lines I’d written before. I guess that’s why it didn’t occur to me to replace the poem in the old post with this one, as I would otherwise do, and just post the video here with a link back. Besides, even if we do view it as a radical revision, it’s fun to keep the older draft on display.

      Dick Jones’ approach makes perfect sense for someone who revises poems a lot over the course of years. That way he can get necessary work done on his poems and still have a new blog post to show for it. And while the new post could consist merely of a note linking back to the original post with the new version, the reality is that some vistors will be too lazy to click the link.

  5. This is lovely, Dave. I would not have understood this lyrical poem, featuring the evil twin of the common Ladybird had my neighbor not arrived panic-stricken at my door last year claiming they were attacking her pristine white house. Even though they were just sunning, I thought she’d finally lost her marbles. Then I looked ‘them’ up on the net and found all the info in your poem in a much less ethereal form. The old harmless kind is red. These Asian migrants are red-orange and like Kudzu are another example of the U.S. importing something they should have left in its native habitat.

    I love the music and video w/poem. The music adds something both dainty and ominous. Everyone else has commented beautifully on the poem, so I’ll just say ‘Yeah! What ya’ll said!!” double!!

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I guess I should’ve added a link. Actually there are many native species of the once-common ladybug, and some of them may now be extinct. We haven’t found a non-Asian ladybird beetle on the mountain in years. Very very distressing. And you can still buy ladybirds to release in your garden.

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