American Life in Poetry: Column 520


With this column American Life in Poetry celebrates its tenth anniversary. Thanks to all of you for supporting us, week in and week out!

When I was a boy, I was advised that if a wasp landed on me I wasn’t to move until it flew away. I did as I was told and got stung. Here Karen J. Weyant, who lives in Pennsylvania, takes a similar risk.


When my father held his Bic lighter
to the nests in back of the garage,
the gray paper pulp sparked

then blackened. Ashes fell,
coating crawling ivy and clover.
A few yellowjackets fled,

one or two swirled, flying
into the sweaty face of my father,
but most too stunned,

their usual side-to-side swag
of a dance, flailing in the smoke.
When one landed on my arm, I stiffened.

His wings settled into a still gauze,
body coiled in yellow bands,
the same shade as buttercups we held

to our skin, cupping sunlight near our chins.
Every step, careful, quivering, as if neither
of us knew who was supposed to sting.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Karen J. Weyant and reprinted from Poetry East, Nos. 80 & 81, Fall 2013. Karen J. Weyant’s most recent book of poems is Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt, (Main Street Rag, 2012). Poem reprinted by permission of Karen J. Weyant and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2015 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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