February 10th, 2007
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Categories: Family Life


We call our kids adopted from Viet Nam our little dragonflies, but I realized recently that I didn’t know why, so I did a little digging about the dragonfly. Here’s what I found:


  • have two pairs of strong transparent wings
  • have incredible eyesight due to their eye structure. Dragonflies have up to 30,000 facets to their compound eyes; each one is a separate light-sensing organ or ommatidium, arranged to give nearly a 360° field of vision.
  • have an average cruising speed of 10 miles per hour
  • sometimes called typhoon-fly, apparently due to large numbers present before storms
  • were a favorite symbol of strength among Japanese warriors
  • advertisement
  • used to be called “horse stingers” due to the fact that they would often be seen hanging around horses (probably catching the flies)
  • were also called “devil’s darning needle” as the result of a myth that if children didn’t keep their mouths closed, they would be sewn shut by a dragonfly
  • do not sting or bite
  • are one of the first winged insects ever found on the planet
  • belong to the insect order called Odonata, meaning toothed one. The name refers to the dragonfly’s serrated teeth

THE DRAGON-FLY by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.


Tutubi Milagrosa — a Tagalog phrase emblazoned
across this sack of jasmine rice, also in Vietnamese,
Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Lao, English, and Thai:
a concert of tongues, scripts, pictographs.

But the crudely drawn dragonfly cruising the names
seems hardly a friendly miracle: metallic globes for eyes,
skeletal legs from a giant mosquito, hairy carapace
like some gene-fused nightmare from a low-budget movie.

Abdomen shaped like a missile — a penile sting.
Not gossamer wings but helicopter blades: Cobra chopper
streaking over silky jungle mist hovers, cybernetic
killer machine poised on a stream of fire, molten metal.

No. Dragonfly out of my childhood is delicate,
a four-year-old’s handspan from wingtip to wingtip.
Almost sunset near the Rizal monument in Manila’s
Luneta Park — cicadas in full choir, singing a canticle.

A little boy in khaki shorts, a scrape on one knee,
stands still then takes a step like a tightrope walker
in line with the slender tail of a jade
and ultramarine dragonfly. The boy’s gaze,

his whole being, funneled into fingertip and thumb.
For a moment, a small universe
of utter beauty and grace in his hand, my hand —
intricate shimmer of wings, the eyes iridescent jewels.

Some interesting links:
Asia Dragonfly
International Dragonfly Fund
Worldwide Dragonfly Association

Children’s Book about Dragonflies:
My Life as a Dragonfly

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