"The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!" as written by and Sufjan Stevens....
Thinking outrageously I write in cursive
I hide in my bed with the lights on the floor
Wearing three layers of coats and leg warmers
I see my own breath on the face of the door

Oh I am not quite sleeping
Oh I am fast in bed
There on the wall in the bedroom creeping
I see a wasp with her wings outstretched

North of Sylvanna we swim in the Palisades
I come out wearing my brothers red hat
There on his shoulder my best friend is bit seven times
He runs washing his face in his hands

Oh how I meant to tease him
Oh how I meant no harm
Touching his back with my hand I kiss him
I see the wasp on the length of my arm

Oh great sights upon this state, hallelu
Wonders bright, and rivers, lake, hallelu
Trail of tears and Horseshoe Lake, hallelu
Trusting things beyond mistake, hallelu

We were in love, we were in love
Palisades, Palisades
I can wait I can wait

We were in love, we were in love
Palisades, Palisades
I can wait I can wait

We were in love, we were in love
Palisades, Palisades
I can wait I can wait

I can't explain the state that I'm in
The state of my heart, he was my best friend
Into the car, from the back seat
Oh admiration in falling asleep
All of my powers, day after day
I can tell you, we swaggered and swayed
Deep in the tower, the prairies below
I can tell you, the telling gets old
Terrible sting and terrible storm
I can tell you the day we were born
My friend is gone, he ran away
I can tell you, I love him each day
Though we have sparred, wrestled and raged
I can tell you I love him each day
Terrible sting, terrible storm
I can tell you

Lyrics submitted by addictedtosound, edited by atirashea, lockedinatower

"The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is out to Get Us!" as written by Sufjan Stevens

Lyrics © New Jerusalem Music

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The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us! song meanings
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  • +16
    General CommentIt's been a while since anyone touched this, but we've been arguing about it since 2005, so let me throw in my two cents.

    For anyone who isn't precisely heterosexual, one of the most poignant experiences of your young life is when you have that one friend you feel... differently about, and I feel that here Sufjan is telling us a story of an experience he had with someone who was "different" to him, and confusing. Sufjan has already told us on multiple occasions that there was an actual occurrence with a friend of his at a summer camp where they invented a predatory wasp-bird creature to scare each other. To me, based on my experiences, there are simply too many lines to ignore, that suggest a homo-questioning undertone. I don't know Sufjan's orientation and he may well be straight as an arrow. But this is obviously something that happened when he was young and that can be a really confusing time of figuring things out and having conflicting feelings for those close to you.

    The beginning of the song, he is writing "in cursive" in a cold room. When he sees a wasp on the wall, his memory drifts back to this specific experience at summer camp.
    He was swimming in a park in Michigan (yes, a real place) and his best friend at the camp was stung by a wasp, multiple times. He reaches to tease him about the creature they created, and perhaps to pretend to bite him, and it turns into a kiss. By the way, just because he's wearing his brother's hat, that doesn't mean that it's his brother he kisses. AND for those who would attempt to rationalize this into something else, he does say very clearly that he kissed his friend. Then he "sees the wasp on the length of his arm" and the wasp becomes this recurring metaphor for the repressed, forbidden and extremely confusing thing that is happening between the two of them.

    The rest of the repetitive verses after the chorus of "we were in love, I can wait" (how does that not seem like someone lovestruck and heartsick?) seem to convey their continued struggle with their feelings. They like each other, love each other, but they're not sure if they are gay or even questioning.
    "I can't explain the state that I'm in. The state of my heart, he was my best friend." In some ways he's still shocked at what has happened. He was his best friend, but this thing has come between them.

    "Into the car, from the backseat. Oh, admiration in falling asleep" This is either directly afterward, and they end up back in the car, or they see each other again for a while afterward. It's just that end of the day exhaustion after swimming and being in the sun, and as he's falling asleep he feels this love and admiration for his friend, despite what has happened.

    "All of my powers, day after day
    I can tell you, we swaggered and swayed
    Deep in the tower, the prairies below
    I can tell you, the telling gets old"
    They both swaggered and swayed, they both wrestled with their feelings. What he says here is so powerful. He fights against his feelings, they both do, and from the top of the mountain to the prairies (this all happened in a park, remember) they keep coming back to the same conclusion. They do have feelings for each other. When he says the telling gets old, he just means he has gone over the story so many times in his memory it's drudgery.

    "Terrible sting and terrible storm
    I can tell you the day we were born"
    I might have believed any theory other than two men kissing each other and having conflicting feelings for each other, if not for these two lines. Continuing the wasp metaphor, in that moment of the kiss they are both stung with something new and unknown and perplexing, and it creates a storm of emotion within them. They are born again in that moment as they begin to question their respective identities.

    "My friend is gone, he ran away
    I can tell you, I love him each day
    Though we have sparred, wrestled and raged
    I can tell you, I love him each day
    Terrible sting and terrible storm"
    Keep in mind that he's writing and reflecting on all this years later, possibly decades. He's remembering this event, and the strong feelings of love and devotion that he had towards his friend, and how this crush changed his life, but they eventually went their separate ways. As so many of these things do, the love dissolved as they grew up. It was a terrible sting and terrible storm at the time, but he has grown and changed away from who he was then. He still loves him each day, but not actively.

    Sorry for the length, but it just seemed like so many people were missing the mark on this one, or trying to come up with outlandish things to avoid the possibility that he was discussing a male-male crush.
    helianthaon May 27, 2012   Link
  • +6
    General Commenttree, you're an idiot. know that about yourself.

    i just attended a question & answer session with sufjan, and he said this song was inspired by time spent at camp as a little kid, around the age of 8. he and his brother saw what they believed to be a terrible mutant wasp monster, and so they ran off, scared out of their wits. after that, every airborne thing they saw - be it a bird, a bug, or plastic bag floating in the wind - they were sure was this mutant wasp monster.

    the song was inspired by the beauty and INNOCENCE of childhood imagination.
    barabbason September 13, 2005   Link
  • +5
    General CommentI dont know about the narrator being female. I mean, It just seems like if Sufjan wanted the narrator to be female, he'd give a bigger hint than "leg warmers".
    Way_AEon August 13, 2005   Link
  • +5
    General CommentIf Sujan hadn't explicitly explained otherwise, I'd consider a twisted Christian interpretation from the perspective of Judas: something about the red hat being a crown of thorns, seven places from which Christ bled, the kiss to betray him, "I meant no harm" as a reference to conflicting desires, "on the length of my arm" as a reference to guilt, etc. Of course, there are obvious difficulties with this interpretation... but it's interesting to note recurrent themes, even if it's more of an exercise.
    passionandparadoxon December 22, 2005   Link
  • +4
    General Commentoh skruffylooking, why ya gotta be so skruffythinking? is it really a turn-off to you that stevens might be gay? hello and please welcome to 2006. I'd wager than queers (gay men, woman, whatever) have had some kind of involvement in the production of a greater portion of your most cherished music than you'd ever imagine. awkward wording that, but you know what I mean. you still listen to stevens even though he's gay? wow, how open minded of you.
    unclealexon February 18, 2006   Link
  • +4
    General CommentOkay. Everyone that keeps denying this song has homosexual meaning in it is either being homophobic or is just denying the obvious, because they don't want to hear a song about gay people. Anyway, still, I don't believe that this song has a mature homosexual relationship at all.

    I think it's about two kids, playing at the Palisades. Like any normal boys, they tease each other with outrageous stories about Predatory Bird Wasps and whatnot. One boy likely kisses the other, as a form of teasing, or at least that might have been his excuse, and it causes the other boy to run out washing his face in disgust. Children often do that sort of thing, experimenting, or doing things to gross each other out. I think the presence of the wasp in this scenario wasn't actually literal. Like Sufjan said, he made up a story about a Bird Wasp with his friend and that was probably one of his most prominent memories, along with kissing his friend. The two images are mixed together as he remembers his best friend. Alternatively, it could be his brother. Either way, we know that that person is no longer in his life anymore, but he still loves him.
    LokiLiesmithon July 13, 2008   Link
  • +3
    General Comment"I can't explain the state that I'm in
    The state of my heart, he was my best friend"

    just.. wow
    __angieslaughteron May 19, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentYes, there is a lot of Christian imagery/illusion in this song, but I don't think the actual song is about Christ or being a Christian.

    I think that imagery is used to convey the depth of hurt/love/faith/betrayal that happened in this important *human* relationship. I do think it's about a boy kissing his male best friend, and how that his changing (unrequited) feelings for that friend eventually ruin their friendship, and how it affects him deeply even years later. Whether it's fictional or autobiographical is neither here nor there.

    I think it's left ambiguous for a reason--that, to me, speaks to how beautifully crafted this song is. It's moving and heartbreaking, and the feelings the song evokes go way beyond the literal story that's being told. Everyone has had an important childhood relationship that affects them even in adulthood. First love can be both exceptionally beautiful and lovely as well as heartbreaking and traumatic. Do we ever really get over that? All of these things, like this song, span the width and bredth of emotion--positive and negative, something to be praised and cursed, something elevated and stinging, something to look back on with both affection and regret. All nit-picky details aside, Stevens, I think, made his point very clear--this song does exactly what it's supposed to do.

    I think the titular wasp serves as a symbol of the hurt/danger that will come as a result of the shifting of feelings, irrevocably changing and ending the friendship.
    yaycoffeeon July 03, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI like how the "I can't explain the state that I'm in" line can have a second meaning, as the album is about characterizing the state of Illinois.
    eokramon June 03, 2010   Link
  • +2
    My InterpretationSo here is my interpretations, as much as it is worth: Seems to be the common interpretations that first part of this is an adult thinking back on his childhood, and that the child is really young, I think that not too many years have passed. I think that the narrator is still young, and is writing in their diary at night, in bed. Everyone assumes this is a girl, because of the leg warmers... which I ind odd, as surly one wouldn't put it past Sufjan Stevens to wear leg warmers in his teens in the 80's right? He is not the most manly of men. Another reason I think he is young, is that he makes a point of stating he is "writing in cursive" - most adults write in cursive without thinking about it.

    I think when he thinks he sees the "wasp with her wings outstretched" he is just about falling asleep. The wasp might not even be there - he might just be slipping into a dream.

    The reason why he might be dreaming of a wasp? Because at some point - either recently or earlier in his life - his friend was bitten by a wasp and Sufjan (or character) associates this with the end of his friendship/early romance.

    He is on camp or away camping with his friend - someone there is old enough to drive, so I think this is a story of early teens. Perhaps "brother" came along, and this is why Sufjan is "wearing my brother's red hat"

    Brother is not around, however as Sufjan and his best friend are swimming. Best friend is "bit seven times" on his shoulder.
    Sufjan takes a look at the sting and "Touching his back with my hand, I kiss him" - kisses the kid on the shoulder. Or perhaps on the face (as someone else pointed out "He runs washing his face in his hands" indicated the kid may have been kissed on the cheek or lips and ran away to wash it off because he feels embarrassed or grossed out).

    Sufjan is worried about it now, as he really didn't think about his friends reaction before he kissed him: "Oh, how I meant to tease him, Oh, how I meant no harm" and as he is standing there feeling embarrassed and worried, the wasp lands on his arm too.

    I feel like when they sing: "Trail of Tears and Horseshoe Lake... Trusting things beyond mistake" kinda portrays the sense of panic-stricken regret a kid would feel when they do something they cant take back.

    I think when he sings: "We were in love, we were in love, I can wait, I can wait" it is Sufjan trying to tell himself it'll all be okay. He honestly believed the feeling was mutual, when it clearly wasn't, given that the friend ran away.

    However, they are out in the middle of nowhere, and they have to spend the night together sleeping in the car. Sufjan stays awake all night frettting over what will happen, and when he sings "admiration in falling asleep" he is refering to the callas way the other kidjust falls asleep, possbily without acknowleging what happened. Whereas Sufjan is laying there thinking about the "state of my heart, he was my best friend." He WAS is best friend... not anymore. Its all over.

    After that they are both stung - the kid by the wasp and Sufjan by the kid: "Terrible sting and terrible storm."

    They are no longer friends, perhaps the kid moved away or just stopped talking to Sufjan after that: "My friend is gone, he ran away."

    However, even despite all this, Sufjan lays in bed, thinking that perhaps things may go back to the way they were before this incident: "Though we have sparred, wrestled and raged. I can tell you, I love him each day." After having time to think it over, he perhaps has started to feel like he has another to apologise for, and that if the kid ever wants to be friends again then he would be waiting for him.

    Anyway... this seems pretty clear to me. If you take it for what it is. I might be wrong about the whole thing, but when you think of it like a story it seems plausible and rather lovely. I remember when i was a kid a friend of mine made a move on me... and i just freaked out completely! I wouldn't talk to that friend anymore we were of the same sex, but I was only 10 years old, so I am not sure that was the issue. I was just too young to have given any thought whatsoever to love and kissing.

    I imagine I am not the only kid who had this experience. This is why i like this song. I wish i could go back and tell that kid who tried to kiss me that its okay, we can go back to being friends again.
    lxmeemon March 28, 2011   Link

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