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Photo of ladybug

The Ladybugs

By Nancy Willard

It's true. I invited them into my home,
four thousand ladybugs from the Sierras.
I paid for their passage.
I paid for their skilled labor.
I was desperate when I read the notice
in a mail order catalogue showing flea zappers
and organic devices for vaporizing mold.
Are pests killing your trees and shrubs?
Ladybugs are the answer.

They arrived, famished and sleepy,
in a muslin bag, slim as a pencil case,
or a reticule for opera glasses,
or very small change.
For once in my life I read the instructions
for sending my private army into the world.
The ladybugs will want a drink
after their long journey.
Sprinkle the sack before releasing them.

I shook handfuls of water over them.
Drops big as bombs pounded their shelter,
a mass baptism into our human ways.
They did not buzz or beat their wings,
but as the warmth of my house woke them
I saw a shifting of bodies, muscles rippling
like waves adjusting themselves to a passing boat.
Do not release the ladybugs during the heat of the day
or while the sun is shining.

Under the full moon I carried my guests
to the affected catalpa waving its green flags.
I untied the bag. I reached in and felt a tickling,
a pulsing of lives small as a watchspring.
I seized a handful and tossed them into the branches.
They clung to my hand for safety.
Their brothers and sisters,
smelling the night air,
hung on my thumb, my wrist,
and my arm sleeved in ladybugs, baffled, muttering
in the silent tick of their language,
Where are we? What does she want of us?
Do not release too many at one time.
A tablespoon of ladybugs on each shrub
and a handful on each tree should keep them
pest-free. Keep on hand, always, a small bag
of ladybugs in your refrigerator.
Do not freeze.

I have made my abode with the ladybugs
and they have chosen me as their guardian,
because the meek shall inherit the earth,
because I found one at rest in the porch
of my ear, because I did not harm the one
that spent the night under the deep ridge
of my collarbone, or the one that crossed
my knuckles like a ring seeking
the perfect finger.

Nancy Willard is a poet, essayist, and novelist, as well as an author of children's books. She teaches at Vassar College.

Photo: Geoff Du Feu/Getty Images

OnEarth. Winter 2004
Copyright 2003 by the Natural Resources Defense Council