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Then


ISSUE:  Spring 2002

That moment looking up from my desk on an August afternoon
with the sun’s wheel turning high over the cottonwoods
and a white butterfly making its sweeping rounds from the spirea
to the lavender and the meadow sage, around and around
in high-arching ascents and steep, nimble landings,
as though it were stitching the garden into one generous design,
I thought it is now, I’m here by the window, and soon
it will be the next moment and this one will be over inevitably
like the view from a moving train that appears only once,
but this butterfly kept coming back and back as though repeating
the same moment, now by the spirea and now by the sage,
now at the top of its arc in the air, like an old LP stuck
in its track, and I remembered a time in a train with my mother
at the border of Lithuania in 1941, when the train stopped
and it was winter, and all night the mounted bayonet of a Russian soldier
went back and forth in front of the window, and my mother telling me later
her greatest comfort had been a nursery rhyme I’d sung to her over and over,
and still later I kept thinking of that night, remembering the mounted
iron cages of the wastebaskets in the unlit station through the window,
how the snow kept blowing into them and they did not fill—
but then looking up from my desk I saw that the snow
had come back like a white butterfly that would not let
this moment go without pressing against its invisible seams—
there it was: utterly complete now, and gone.

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