Purim and the Beetles of Our Lady
My love for this earth goes beyond thought,
a fan writes me and so does mine, except for
coleomegilla maculata, these beetles of Our Lady
that saved Mary’s garden from mealybugs in
medieval times. They emerge in a moment of melt
to slip into our homes through crevices too slight
for a whisper, coleomegilla, surely not
from the rescued yiddish of my father—
megillah for a lengthy convoluted story,
retold at the feast of Purim, suspense and revenge in the telling: Queen Esther,
Uncle Mordecai, and Haman the villain
to be read on the eleventh day of Adar,
not too early in the calendar for these
ten-spotted bloodlets dropping into dinner,
swarming the globe light over the table,
crowding the mullions in morning sunlight,
our commonest ladybug, which Spellcheck
will redo as communist, not a bad word choice
for these hordes to be vacuumed up and expelled
naked in the snow or in the compost barrel, but
do I love this earth enough to store them
in ladybug houses available online, free shipping,
until the spring month of Adar is over, then
unleash them to feast in my vegetable garden
on the species that riddle the leafy crops?
Let us reflect on Haman the evil one
the Agagite in Persia under King Xerxes
in the fifth century B.C., now called
before the common era, which is not before
ladybugs first hatched. Consider the orphan
Queen Esther who has married Ahasuerus
the king, consider the good uncle Mordecai
who urges her to foil the plot against her people
by revealing her origins—until then unknown.
Oh what a megillah long before the story
of Mary rescued from mealybugs by
coleomegilla maculata, long before beetles
began to eat holes in my love for this earth.
Note: Please think about this poem for yourself before reading my thoughts, and add your comments below! There is no such thing as one “correct” interpretation, but tell me what you think I missed!
For general information on how to read a poem, try Reading Poetry: Why and How
The speaker asks if she loves the earth enough to take the time to collect ladybugs. She views them as a nuisance and connects them to drops of blood, yet at the same time, she knows they help protect gardens in the spring.
I like ladybugs, so I don’t understand why the speaker doesn’t, but then again I’m not bothered by insects unless I know they will bite or sting.
Within the rumination on ladybugs, the speaker intertwines 2 stories, one from the Christian tradition in which the Virgin Mary sent ladybugs to medieval Europe to save the crops from mealybugs, and another, from the Jewish, in which Queen Esther saved the Jewish people from destruction in Persia, which is celebrated today with the holiday Purim.
Esther was always my favorite Bible story, so honestly that interested me in this poem too.
Honestly, I’m struggling to get the connection between ladybugs and Queen Esther, but it seems to me that the point is that it’s a good idea to look beyond the annoyance of personal problems in light of the overall benefit. For example, without ladybugs to eat destructive insects, people would have starved. Without Esther and Mordecai’s place in the Persian government, the Jewish people might have perished.
And while I’m not much of a gardener, this poem has certainly raised my awareness of the value of ladybugs and made me want to make sure I have them around my house. I wonder if they eat mosquitos?
This poem is a hard one so please share your thoughts below!
More by Maxine Kumin
Purim and the Beetles of Our Lady is found in Maxine Kumin’s collection, And Short the Season. You can read more about Maxine Kumin and her other works here.
Help ladybugs thrive in your own backyard!