‘A way of happening, a mouth’
— from W.H. Auden’s “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”
I could say my hands are butterflies and you
are milkweed but in truth I don’t know
what milkweed is, or looks like: only that milkweed
is somehow lovelier than gravy stain –
though what I know of butterflies,
what they are and love, is what I learned once
at summer camp: when a Monarch lit upon
Annie’s shirt that hour after evening mess.
We gathered on the pebbled trail outside the dining tent
while Annie stilled her thin body, almost not breathing,
any of us, as the copper hinges of its wings flexed
and the long black tongue unfurled itself to lick
gravy from Annie’s shirt. Nothing moved
in that whole Wisconsin dusk except
the Monarch’s tongue, curled and coy as an eyelash,
flicking on Annie’s shirt, tasting our same brown supper.
We hadn’t learned proboscis, we hadn’t learned
that gravy stain, despite its assonance, its tonal flow,
owned some particular unloveliness. That hour, I flared
my hands back, fingers stretched, to balance my leaning-forward
toward the Monarch’s tongue, our spiraled center. You,
hearing this now, could say I don’t think butterflies
have tongues. They don’t, of course, that’s true. Yet
what I am trying to say is yes, they do.
Photo by Tim Hamilton
A beautiful poem Jan.