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! Lyrics 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
    General CommentI have to admit that I have not read all of the comments for this song, but I did read about half. So I apologize if I am repeating prior interpretations :)

    Sufjan is one heck of a lyricist. Love this song and the music. As other posters have commented, it makes sense to me that this song is a reflection of a summer camp trip that Sufjan took with his brother and his friend Franco. In the first stanza, I interpret this to be a young Sufjan, perhaps shortly after the trip writing about his experience. I think a key experience of the trip was the fascination with the predatory wasp. The idea continues to intrigue sufjan that he imagines that it either followed him home or magically appears in his room at night ('thinking outrageously'). I believe the layers of coats and leg warmers are to prevent him from being stung by the wasp- something a very imaginative child would do. It would also explain why he is hiding in his bed (from the wasp). This makes sense when you think how young children continue to cling onto ideas for days and even months after they experience something that really affects them. But as several other people have commented, I believe the wasp is a metaphor as well.

    The next stanza recounts the significant experience of the best friend being bit,presumably by the wasp, but is he really bit by the wasp? Sufjan says that he sees the wasp on the length of his arm. Could it be that Sufjan and possibly other friends physically beat up Franco or emotionally through teasing him? The song says that the friend was bit on the shoulder, so why is he washing his face? Is that a metaphor for the shame he is feeling from being teased?
    The rest of the song is fairly straightforward. His friend runs away and Sufjan sorely misses him. I think Sufjan extends the wasp metaphor by indicating that he was stung by the loss of his friend. Are the layers of coats and leg warmers to protect against such a loss again- to shield himself from pain- or to prevent himself from acting in such a hurtful manner again?
    BillyBuddon July 07, 2011   Link

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