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Letter to the Butterflies

ISSUE:  Summer 1980

Dear Monarchs, fellow Americans,
friends have seen you and that’s proof,
I’ve heard the news:
since summer you traveled 5000 miles
from our potato fields to the Yucatan.
Some butterflies can bear
what the lizard would never endure.
I’ve seen butterflies weather a storm
in the shell of a snail,
and come out of nowhere
twenty stories up in New York City.
The gossip: Greeks used you as an emblem of the soul,
—medieval custom made the caterpillar
a symbol of life, the cocoon—death,
the butterfly—a sign of resurrection.
What’s a butterfly beside a sunset?
All color becomes black at a distance.
If I could I’d make the butterfly
Atlas shouldering the world.

So far we’ve had a mild December
The hydrangea blossoms dried pale brown
still hold to the stem.
A few yellow marigolds are in flower.
I know at rest you close your wings.

One summer morning along the river
I saw a pure blue butterfly,
such a flaming intense blue
that it hurt my eyes. In Monterey
I saw the Monarchs of North America gather,
a valley of butterflies surrounded
by living mountains of butterflies,
—the last day for many.
I saw a river of Monarchs
flooding the valley,
black clouds of butterflies thundered overhead,
yet every one remained a fragile thing.
A winged colossus wearing billowing silk
over a sensual woman’s body
waded across the valley,
wagons and armies rested at her feet.
A village lit fires,
and the valley was a single black butterfly.


Butterfly what are you to me
that I should worry about your silks and powders,
your damnation or apotheosis,
insecticides and long-tongued lizards.
I will never be you, and you will never be human,
your purpose—to offer a little summer beauty,
a kind of courage, the unsettling of a marigold,
—is not to love.
Still I have no quarrel with you
only my self for leaving my purpose,
for the likes of you.

Do you perceive my dangers?
Mortality is our common code,
you and I may die anonymously,
but not like snowflakes falling.
Sooner or later I hope a butterfly
alights on my gray stone
above my name and date
what is this nothingness
they have done to me.


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