This poem at albits seems to me to describe the ways of a butterfly better than anything I’ve ever read. I used the word capture instead of describe at first, but that word sounds too violent for what the poet has accomplished, in engaging respectfully with such an otherworldly and mysterious fellow creature.
Recently I listened to Antonio López talk about what it means to have a technological perspective on our world. He self-consciously follows the thought of George P. Grant in noting that just by being inhabitants of this culture we live in, we tend to absorb and display a somewhat fragmented and fragmenting attitude toward the people and things around us, failing to see them as whole beings, seeing everything as “piles of stuff” that we may use or manipulate or control at will. He wants us to see the connectedness of everything, and to respect the interiority of each creature, and “let be.”
Some have said that for a writer, “everything is material,” meaning, everything we see, whatever happens to us throughout our days, appears to us as something to write about, something we long to distill into words so that we can know it better and share it with other humans.
It occurs to me that to have this attitude as my first impulse may be an example of this less than fully human, technological perspective; I immediately impose my thoughts and presuppositions on the thing or person before me. But that habit works against my deeper and purer self. If I want to be fully present with the world, with the people and things in it, I need to restrain my mind’s impulsive and constant forming of sentences, at least long enough to let my heart meet the heart of the “other,” and know communion.
Perhaps that is what this poet was able to do when he met a butterfly. It would explain how he was able to catch, not just the first thoughts that came to mind, but this divine vision to share with us.
A BREATH OF WINGS
Walking out with the trash
I saw a butterfly flash by
In a wink and a bright splash
Of light. It made me wish
The yard were lined in rich
Leafy plants that might catch
Her eye in the search for a place
To settle. How could I guess
That she’d choose a blank wedge
Of sidewalk next to my garage
Where grey concrete met brick
And no perch seemed attractive
To a breath from delicate wings.
That’s how I saw her, as a trick
Of nature: two fans of gauze
Waving crazily in the evening air,
Nothing more, nothing else there
But color that seemed to disappear
As she lit. What remained was a stick
On the ground with a flat brown flag:
The wings had closed up tight.
Was she taking a nap, I thought,
Or holding her breath in fear
Of me standing there, a sag
In my face, the blank mind caught,
Transfixed in a magical nowhere
Between this–and the next–flight.
I like the way the sentences sometimes don’t match the lines of the couplets exactly, so that the rhythm of the poem mimics the way a butterfly swoops and flutters, “waving crazily,” and then surprises you when it comes to an abrupt stop on a flower or a sidewalk. It is a good one to read aloud.
The beholding of a butterfly was a gift of grace to the poet, and through his labor of love I’ve been doubly blessed: Through this vicarious meeting I have an expanded appreciation of butterflies, and also the joy of encountering an uplifting poem. I’m afraid to say much more about all the words — I did once write on words for this insect — and the form of the poem because I will get carried away in enthusiastic speculation and wonder, and never make it outside to look at more butterflies.
I hope you all might see a butterfly today!