Dragonflies

 

Dragonflies
By Frances Leviston

Watching these dragonflies
couple in the air, or watching them try,
the slender red wands
of their bodies tapped
end to end like fingertips, then faltering wide
on the currents of what feels to me
a fairly calm day,

I think of delicate clumsiness
lovers who have not yet mentioned
love aloud enact,
the shy hands they extend
then retract, the luscious fumbled chase
among small matters seeming massive
as rushes are to dragonflies,

and in the accidental
buzz of a dragonfly against bare skin,
how one touch fires
one off again on furious wings
driven towards love and love, in its lightness,
driven the opposite way,

so in fact they hardly meet
but hang in the hum of their desires.
still, who would ask
these dragonflies to land on a stone,
and like two stones, to consummate?
How can I demand love stop, and speak?

This piece appears in New Writing 14, published this year. You’d be hearing more of her if the quality of her writing is equal to what we see here in her poem Dragonflies. She has a very short collection of 12 pieces, called, appropriately, Lighter, by Mews Press, two years back, and last year she was one of the poets in another short collection, Tower Poets. So far she hasn’t yet been published by a major publishing house, until Picador, who would be publishing her first collection soon. She’s Scottish originally, Oxford-educated, with a Writing MA from another university.

In the first stanza, we see, or rather, the writer sees, a pair of dragonflies attempting, rather futilely, to mate. They just manage to touch with their wand-like bodies, having to separate. The effect here is a little comic, when you see, next, the observer saying it’s a fairly calm day to her, at the same time when some desperate lovers are frantically trying to consummate their love.

The second stanza introduces to us the poet’s “delicate clumsiness”, in the way she, very deftly but still outwardly a little clumsily, describes this. The two lines following are a qualification to “delicate clumsiness”. They look a little awkward but are very complex in syntax. Still, they finally do work out. “who have not yet mentioned/Love” qualifies “Lovers”, inside “aloud enact”. In turn, “Lovers who have not yet mentioned/Love aloud enact” qualifies “clumsiness”.

She illustrates this sort of “delicate clumsiness” with the image of, probably, human lovers reaching out to each other, like the dragonflies with their wand-like bodies. And, like the insects separating wide, these human hands are drawing back from each other. All this is some kind of fumbling love-making, just like the “rushes” of the dragonflies. Notice the “m” sounds in “Among small matters seeming massive”: this is how Leviston deftly segues from the human element to the insect one, by making us hear and feel the humming of the dragonflies.

The 3rd stanza marries the dragonfly to the human, we don’t see exactly who, by making the insect connect physically to the human by its touch. And Leviston, once more, does some clever transition to the insect element, by implying that the human touch on the insect is making it flap its wings furiously.

The last two lines in the stanza are very interesting.

Driven towards love and love, in its lightness,
Driven the opposite way,

The repetition of “love” is so overtly a pairing. And it is also a separation, even if the conjunction “and” should, by rights, be joining “love”. And this is confirmed by the next line. Also, repeating “Driven”, both as the first word of consecutive lines gives this an urgency.

The last stanza sums everything up, about lovers - insect and human - finding it hard to consummate their love. “How can I demand love stop, and speak?” harks back to “delicate clumsiness/Lovers who have not yet mentioned/Love aloud enact,”.

In sum, there are a lot of motifs about coming together and separating. As a parting shot, I’m asking you to notice the clever way in which Leviston creates a huge word-gulf between “clumsiness” and “enact”, to emulate such a separation. She also reverses or re-arranges the syntax here so that you have to traverse over so many words in order to see, finally, it is the lovers who are enacting this delicate clumsiness. Posted by Picasa

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