The Greek psi, first letter of psyche, the word for breath,
Resembles both a windblown iris and a butterfly drinking nectar
Through its uncurled proboscis before the light wind bears it away.
In his favorite photograph, Whitman sits with a butterfly on his finger.
Yet those dark, iridescent wings were cardboard, Whitman’s own cutout,
For the soul, he knew, was made from bright scissors and an old man’s hands.
Lorca dreamed Whitman’s beard woven with ribbons of butterflies.
They eddied among his whiskers, dappling Manhattan streets,
Clothing and uncovering the thighs of men and women with rainbow silks.
Should we be surprised that Nabokov’s blues are almost patternless?
They radiate the cloudless cold of April, though their underwings
Are studded with silver, the tucked-away blossoms of Solomon’s seal.
Perhaps we might honor the mayfly, too. After two years underwater,
Subimagos molt and rise so quickly they leave their mouths behind.
No song, save onionskin wings humming desire, desire, desire.
There is no end to the rabble of poets who write about butterflies.
After the long chill, they taste spring leaves, become chrysalises,
Finally unfurl into the flight that sketches rosettes upon the air.