I feel bad for stink bugs. They are so little and pathetic. All they want is a place to crawl freely, some air to fly around in, a crumb to nibble. Yes, they are proliferating, and yes, they do stink when subjected to bodily harm. And yes, they are damaging crops. But as individuals, members of the Pentatomidae family just might deserve our compassion.

Like English professors angling to be chosen for a kickball team, they are wildly unpopular. There are people—perhaps you among them—who openly discuss ways to kill stink bugs. There is talk of stuffing them in the garbage, sucking them up in vacuum cleaners, and even cracking their sturdy little shells with a clothespin. But worst of all—and most popular, it seems—is the drowning of stink bugs in the toilet. I can hardly hear a flush anymore without cringing for the lives lost.

What do stink bugs themselves have to say about their plight? What are the dreams they hold close to their little thoraxes? A couple of summers ago, Roberta Culbertson told me she’d had a conversation with one. She grew evasive when I asked for details, but apparently there had been real sharing and no language barrier to speak of.

With Roberta’s experience in mind, and the plight of stink bugs weighing ever more heavily on me, I decided to seek one out for an interview. I started in the bathroom where there were several of them clinging to the slats of the venetian blinds. It was a sunny morning and they were sluggish until they saw my hand looming above them. My plan was to catch one, transport it to the kitchen, and offer it a bit of baked potato—you know, put it at ease, before getting all up in its antennae.

But no sooner had I grabbed one that I felt the familiar scrabbling inside my fist, the desperate kicking of tiny legs. This was not shaping up to be a relaxed exchange for either one of us. The bug was no doubt aware of the toilet bowl’s proximity, and how could it know I just wanted to talk?

I let it go and watched it fly in ever-widening circles before it returned to the blinds and no doubt said terrible things about me to its alarmed friends.

Downstairs, several were lounging on the kitchen windowsill, but they looked so sleepy I decided to leave them alone. I saw two on the edge of the trashcan but sensed an insurmountable class difference and decided not to bother. There were quite a few more on the front porch, but unfortunately, they were dead—victims of a large, moth-filled spider web woven between the rafters. Anyone familiar with Robert Frost’s “Design” will understand why I turned on my heel and went back inside.

In the living room I finally struck gold. There was a stink bug, its brown shield gleaming in the sun, sitting up on its back legs and meditatively inspecting the base of my Kalanchoe plant. I approached slowly and extended a finger. It looked at my finger and then up at me. I bent down to eye level.

Was it possible the creature was wearing spectacles? A reader! I could hardly believe my good fortune.

“Well, hello,” I said. “How’s it going?”

Silence. But I sensed a willingness to hear me out.

“Would you consent to an interview? I think it’s time your side of the story got told.”

A brief, affirmative ruffling of wings!

“I can’t pay you for this interview,” I continued breathlessly, “but there might be a bit of pinot grigio spilled on the kitchen table tonight, if you know what I mean.”

My new acquaintance hopped on a fleshy green leaf, then hopped down. This was as close to a nod of agreement as I could hope for.

Sensing that time was of the essence, I eased my phone out of my pocket and fumbled with the recorder app.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“Mallory.” Her voice was so dear and soft I could barely hear it.

“Mallory, what do you think of—well, what do you think of the war being waged against you and your kind?”

She bowed her head. That was answer enough.

“Do you have any favorite poems?”

She slowly raised herself up and looked at me again. Her spectacles gave off a silvery twinkle. Then she spoke rapidly.

I nodded my head to show I was listening, though in fact I could hear very little.

After she was done, she walked around to the other side of the flowerpot and hid from me. I knew she was exhausted. I thanked her for her time and told her the wine bar would be open—hint, hint—around ten o’clock.

Later, when I played back the interview, all I could hear during her answers was my own breathing. And yes, I wept.

When I looked for her the next morning, the kitchen was deserted. In the living room, two unfamiliar stink bugs were sitting in the dirt surrounding the Kalanchoe. The air carried a sad stench.

Then, to my absolute horror, I heard a crackling under my shoe: I had walked right over Mallory’s body. I don’t believe I killed her—let’s just say there are cats of interest in this case. But I do take responsibility for the shattering of her spectacles.

The poems, you must be exploding by now, what were Mallory’s favorite poems!

There is but one title I caught for certain: The Departure” by Denise Levertov. Read it, reader, and think of Mallory as you pack your bags.