Shimmering metalicelectricbrightblue armorskin,
Twitchy, angry wings
Searing sting, delivered like hot death.
Oh, yes. I learned. I learned.
Mud dauber wasps drop
Out of the sun like Messerschmitt One-Oh-Nines,
All angles and crackling danger, eager to
Strafe hapless infantry if needs be.
They land at the muddy edge of the pond
Like a strike of cobalt lightning
In a defiant stance that says “this beach is mine!”
Like aliens from Saturday morning TV,
Flung angry from the heart of some magenta sun.
They scan for danger and get to work.
I watched from a safe distance,
Studied how they stalked over the
Narrow band of workable mud at pond’s edge,
Wings and antennae twitching,
Cocky, threatening, angular, busy.
They were picky.
Not just any mud would do, apparently.
But prime mud, from the waspish Goldilock’s distance from the water—Not too wet, not too dry, just right—
Rolled into little balls and
Flown to a hand-hewn beam with the bark still on one side, in the ancient barn.
Again and again and again and again.
Until the nest, like a pipe organ,
Grew on wood cut when U.S. Grant was dying, writing his memoirs
Wrapped in a shawl on a porch at
The Jersey Shore.
Once the pipes were built, and not
Caring about Ulysses Grant at all,
The wasps hunted spiders, paralyzed them and
Stuffed the tubes with them to feed their babies.
In the mysterious waters, in the mud, in the grasses and weeds,
Nature breathed, bred and died in all her bloody glory.
Life, everywhere, a living laboratory, raw and clear.
In a drop of water, magnified, life struggled.
In the mud, disturbed, tiny monsters squirmed.
In the lukewarm shallows, and out to deeper water,
Where the big bass and turtles hid,
Algae or long, languid grasses grow,
And I learned about survival and habitat,
How different places shelter larvae, tadpoles, minnows,
Or snakes or three kinds of turtles
Leopard or bull frogs or toads,
Egg clusters of frogs; dragonflies, and their
Murderous underwater larval form, the nymphs;
Dead things, decaying, consumed, reused.
Where muskrats had their dens, and what
Strange beauty is was to see them swim, silently,
Making a v-shaped wake on the surface,
On a summer’s night under a full moon.
But it was always the blue mud daubers building
Their silent grey pipe organs
Like the soloists flown in from Budapest
While the house orchestra played on behind.
Part of the elegant and vast symphony revealed
On the muddy banks of childhood.