Pantala Meditations


The window is large at the nurses station where I stand—six by eight feet of clear glass, broken only by the small decoration that dangles by a suction cup and says “nurse”, it is a colored glass circlet that occasionally lures hummingbirds to its flash and color. The big window looks out on grass and the clustered flower pots that brighten the patio stations where the cancer patients from next door go to stand and smoke. The grassy lane between the two buildings runs off to the left and the right. I hold a chart in my hand that says something. I know it says something. But all I see are the Pantala out the window going back and forth out of view. They undulate. The wings flash some glinting burnishment of orange when they slant just right, catching sun. They drop those tapered abdomens like they are testing the drag. I can tell easily now the Spot-wings from the Wanderings, the hymenaea from the flavescens. The Wanderers are golden, you can see that lovely tiger color even in the brief passes they make across the window. There is a swarm building and it appears that only one of them is a Wandering Glider. The rest are Spot-wings.


The nurse watches me watching them. And I tell her about the wandering one. She seems impressed. She tries to find this golden single and after several passes she sees it, tracks it with her finger. “There,” she says. I nod. She smiles.


The clouds are building. It rains every day, the wettest July I remember with a bad memory. There may be fifty or sixty dragons in this swarm. I’ve seen them mass in the two or three thousand range elsewhere. I’ve walked up hundreds from their rest, the reserves, along rivers in the morning before they have all risen to their rhythmic aeronautics. You try to see them before they break and weave away but their camouflage is very fine when they dangle among vertical sprays of leaf and blade. They climb quickly up when startled and then merge with the turning mass. Thinking of this, I suddenly remember the cutting sheer of a Mississippi Kite’s wing scaring me once as it whistled down to take dragons out of just such a dragonwhirl, the silvered bird afterward floating and raising its armored fist up to eat Pantala on the wing. I wondered at the time if dragons, especially these gliders and the great swarms of Swamp Darners, ever learned to avoid the sudden hawking from above. It looked awful easy for the kite again and again.


I have to go back in the exam room and leave the window. Hypertension? Depression? I forget the last discussion. I cut my eyes back and forth like a tennis fan following the Pantala motions. Cloudchasers, the Wandering Glider, the highest modification to flight in the dragon world, crossing oceans. Perhaps tracking earthly pressure lines, learning the deep Pacific ways of the wind. Can they climb above the stormtops? Can they just tap out their eggs right onto the cumulus anvils from thirty thousand feet and let the clusters find their own raindrop envelopes, their own paths to the water pools in Iowa or Texas? Why even bother with this strip of grass in just another small town? Why this window and this dance today when you could be riding a cloud top over Easter Island?


The rain comes and I plop the chart down on the counter. I note the quick vanishing of the gliders. I want to go out in the storm and find just one hanging in the wooded lot next door. I know that is where they go. I want to bring one in. “Nurse, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” I press a forefinger to the glass and trace rain instead. They’re sheltered somewhere—the dragons. But I’ve got work. Someone is waiting for me to write something down, to give them an answer or the name of a pill—a pain, a sorrow, something lost in the troubled waking of day after day. A packet of prescriptions sits next to me. Oddly, I think I could go in the room and we could stand on the counter together and open the blinds. It never occurred to me before. The windows are higher and narrower in there but they look out on the same long courtyard. “Come on up, don’t be afraid.” We could watch the rain stop and then see the Pantala come back one by one until the swarm is remade for our watching eyes. This would certainly be new therapy. Forget the Zoloft and the Paxil. I can take the blank pads and scribble over and over—dragonflies, dragonflies per ocular TID.


Pharmaceutical sanity. I sing the body Odonata, one for you and one for me. “Find the golden one. (And we will both feel better.) I know he’s out there somewhere.”