By Janna Layton
The first warmth of April
and there it is on Valencia Street,
where I am looking for distraction—
a ladybug, small and spotless,
clinging to my arm. I walk with it,
then ease it to a tree.
I don’t want it trapped, dead and dry,
on the wrong side of a store window.
The next day beside a Peninsula creek,
and the weeds, if you pause,
are full of ladybugs.
The heat, the scent of grass, these beetles—
Us girls at recess: gathering, naming,
trying to tame the ladybugs.
Enthralled by the variety:
no spots, two, seven, more;
red, orange, sometimes the cartoon villain composition
of black shell with red markings.
But never green.
We argued which was best.
The blank slate of brick?
The friendliness implied in a circle with simple spots?
A narrow little thing hording black dots?
Sometimes we saw them mating:
a calm piggyback ride.
Then there were the larvae, the ugly babies,
pale orange and gray the only hint
of what was to come from those soft squirms.
The ladybugs were pretty,
but when our fingers were too clumsy
bitterness oozed out, a reminder
that these were insects, which crushed
would be as visceral a mess as a swatted fly.
But here they all are by this creek,
looking as if they were the same ladybugs
from all those years ago.
What of those girls I played with?
Some I still know of, in Vegas and Davis,
one with a baby.
Others’ faces I only see in brief motions,
with clinks from swings’ chains in the distance.
There is a plethora of patterns,
but the ladybugs are always—even with odd-numbered spots—
which I am not. At least by touch,
by doctor’s touch.
Now there is a lump,
here by the water.
Janna Layton lives in San Francisco. Her poetry and fiction have been published in various literary journals, including The New Yorker, Menacing Hedge, Appalachian Heritage, Zone 3, and Caesura. She blogs at readingwatchinglookingandstuff.blogspot.com.
“Ladybugs” was first published in REAL 34.1 and is posted here with the author’s permission.
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