The Old Dragonfly

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Stephen Whiteside
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The Old Dragonfly

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Sun Jul 01, 2012 7:00 am

I wrote this for the Gulgong Henry Lawson comp. It wasn't mentioned in despatches, so I thought I might as well post it here.

The Old Dragonfly

© Stephen Whiteside 25.03.2012

On the road that leads out of Gulgong, at about the three mile mark, or whatever that is now, there’s an old post and rail fence. Or at least there used to be. I haven’t seen the fence myself, but my uncle told me about it, and that was not so long ago. Perhaps he hadn’t seen it either. Anyway, it doesn’t matter.

Because on this post and rail fence - well, not every day, but on certain days when the sky was cobalt blue and a gentle breeze stirred in the tree-tops - a dragonfly used to come out and sun himself. Or herself. And this dragonfly was very old and arthritic, and its wings were as thin as gossamer, and it was said that it could not fly very far or fast, because it was so old. And on colder days you didn’t see it at all.

But this old dragonfly, it was said, was so old that it remembered Henry Lawson. It had been alive since even before Henry was born, apparently, and had memories also of Henry’s parents, Peter and Louisa, though these were not so vivid.

It was his moustache he remembered more than anything, because occasionally this dragonfly had flown into Henry’s moustache mistaking it for something else. I’m not sure what. Some patch of more sympathetic vegetation, presumably. And sometimes Henry had attempted to swat it away, and sometimes the dragonfly had realised its error before that had become necessary. Direct contact, apparently, had only occurred on one occasion, and the dragonfly still had a kink in its right forewing as a result.

Life is tough for dragonflies. They are not large creatures as creatures go, even though they are pretty big for insects. And they’re certainly no match for a Henry Lawson when his blood is up. Anyway, as I say, this dragonfly is old and arthritic now, and doesn’t fly very far or fast. But he does remember Henry Lawson.

Now, you might think he has rather bitter memories, because of the moustache and the swat and the kinked wing and so forth, but he actually doesn’t, and this is the amazing thing. He actually remembers Henry Lawson with great affection. And why should this be?

Well, it’s hard to explain, and I’m not sure that I can. Except to say this. It seems Henry created a bit of a vibe. An aura. In truth, he only really troubled himself with people. He didn’t write much about animals. Well, the occasional dog, that’s true, but not much else. But the animals didn’t take it personally. They simply put it down to his lack of education, because poor ol’ Henry didn’t get much schooling. But they could see that he had a kind heart, and that he meant well, and that he would have been kinder to the animals and taken more interest in them if he’d been taught more about them, so they made allowances. Because, in a way, he was kind to them anyway. You see, the people around Gulgong became a bit kinder while Henry was there. A bit less likely to kick the cat. A bit less keen to shoot a bird for sport. Even a bit more forgiving of the mozzies, which is hard to believe, I know, and I’m not sure that I do. But this is how things were, according to this dragonfly.

These days we’d call it the ‘trickle-down’ effect, wouldn’t we? Be kind to all the people, and they’ll be kind to all the animals and birds and insects and grubs and worms and ants and micro-organisms and germs. Well, I don’t know if you can take it that far. Besides, it would be pretty dilute by the time it got there, wouldn’t it? Still, you never know, I guess.

So, yes, this dragonfly had fond memories of Henry Lawson. But it doesn’t stop there. You see, dragonflies have very sensitive wings, and they pick up vibrations in the atmosphere, even very subtle ones, and this dragonfly maintained that on a very clear day, when the air was still, he could sometimes detect the spirit of Henry Lawson floating past. Or shimmering a little way above the sun-baked ground. It sounds ridiculous to me, but the animal world is full of little mysteries like this. Or so I believe.

Now, I don’t know if any of this is true, any of this about the old arthritic dragonfly with the kinked wing and the fond memories of Henry Lawson and the spirit of Henry still drifting through the area, but I think it might be because, you know, my uncle told me.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer

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