I found him dying on the sidewalk:
a dragonfly with wings quivering in wind.
Little darning needle emperor,
migrant lying on his back
in one of those long, late green August days
a week before school starts again.

My mother, a painter, suggested
I bring him in.

I scooped up the tiny mess of geometry
his black feet
plucking my hands,
and I took him inside
to wait for him to die.

Three hours in a plastic bag
and his blue-spotted body
still twitched.

I don’t know whose idea it was
to set him in fingernail polish
to preserve the color better
while he was still alive.

My mother took the bottle
from her linen drawer,
beside the strange purple mystery
of silk and lavender underwear
we women always have.

We filled a plastic bowl
with clear polish—
good enough to keep
the color forever—
and set him in.
His black-veined window wings
spread across surface, all paned.

It took me a long time
to figure out he was gasping.

My mother looked away first.
And before he could finish—
before his little humped back
could stop seizing up and down—
I ran with him to the garage
shoved him in the freezer
slammed it shut
and left him there.

After two hours
he smelled like my mother’s hands
early mornings before work.

She wanted to know
if we could go to hell for this.

We did not dab him dry
but let his body soak in air—
his back still withered black.
My mother dipped a paintbrush
in her most expensive blue
to daub each spot of color
back onto his body.

Then we touched with glue
the soda-dark eyes, engine chest,
tabbed tip of each wing,
to set him down
on green square paper:
my mother’s pink nails
setting each wing just so
careful not to break
a single silver lace.
His arm bent upward.

From another drawer
of ribbons and ash,
she fished old stencils
to trace capture the joy
across the top,
just the color of summer sky,
arranging him on the page,
showing me how
to keep a dragonfly forever

and I
shadowboxed him on my wall
for people to marvel
how lifelike he looks.
Yes, I always tell them. Yes.

His small arm, frozen,
uplifted like a benediction.

Kelly Weber’s fiction has appeared in Rose Red Review and The Judas Goat, and her poetry has appeared in The Neihardt Journal, Caper, and The Judas Goat, for which she was selected as the 2012-2013 Aletha Acers Steel Burgess Poetry Prize Scholarship recipient. She teaches composition at Wayne State College.