The dragonfly at rest on the doorbell—
too weak to ring and glad of it,
but well mannered and cautious,
thinking it best to observe us quietly
before flying in, and who knows if he will find
the way out? Cautious of traps, this one.
A winged cross, plain, the body straight
as a thermometer, the old glass kind
that could kill us with mercury if our teeth
did not respect its brittle body. Slim as an eel
but a solitary glider, a pilot without bombs
or weapons, and wings clear and small as a wish
to see over our heads, to see the whole picture.
And when our gaze grazes over it and moves on,
the dragonfly changes its clothes,
sheds its old skin, shriveled like laundry,
and steps forth, polished black, with two
circles buttoned like epaulettes taking the last space
at the edge of its eyes.
—The Vanity of The Dragonfly, by Nancy Willard
Update: Yes, it’s real, I found it half-drowned in a rainwater collecting drum the night before. I took it out and set it in a pot plant for the night, but by morning it was dead. It was easy to find and identify, simply by Googling “large dragonfly”. It is a member of the dragonfly family Aeshnidae, called ‘Darners’ in English. This one is Epiaeschna heros, called a Swamp Darner in English. It occurs, as a native taxon, in multiple nations. In many places in the U.S. it is classified as vulnerable, in some states it is ‘imperiled’ or ‘critically imperiled’.
What I find most intriguing about this particular dragonfly is that it has the markings and colouring found on Darners in North America. The Australian Swamp Darner, Austroaeschna parvistigma, is black and dull-coloured. I understand that this family of dragonflies is migratory, though it is hard to believe that my nighttime visitor came from quite that far away!