Summer in Texas is unforgiving: the heat is prolonged through the first days of September, yields to freezing cold in February and January, and the cold weather begins toying with spring in May. Caterpillars hatch late June and begin their progressive munching toward becoming all kinds of insects, from June Bugs to moths to butterflies.
lays her eggs and drifts through spring
wings golden splendor
It was a typical late June morning;, easing into the stove-top high temperatures of July. Already hot, it was truly the last gasp of spring, summer kicking ill-temperedly at the door demanding to be let in. I had to come downtown on the bus, my faithful old Buick Larky (’72 Buick Skylark) was immobilized under the tender care of the mechanic who was forever adjusting its ancient system
brown body cream top
glorious old motor knocks
As I walked from the bus stop (thankfully just across the street from the office building where I worked as a legal secretary and wrote poetry whenever I could seize a moment), the pavement simmered beneath my feet and the sidewalk in front of the huge office building palpitated with reflected heat. Skimpy little decorative post oaks planted in front of the entrance to the building cast skimpy little shadows as I hurried past the geometric herringbone-brick imprisoned flower beds filled with wilting plants.
stunted post oak trees
tuck roots beneath brick blanket
lift branches toward sky
As I went up the steps toward the double doors that would open into the air-conditioned ecstasy of the inner bank foyer I glance down and saw … her. I paused, surprised. A rare and magnificent swallowtail butterfly lay at my feet, her wings and legs feebly moving, obviously in her last throes. I lifted her gently onto my palm. The wide abdomen indicates her sex; she must have finished laying her eggs, ending her life cycle.
Texas sun beats down
swallowtail butterfly dies
no one sees or cares
I carry her upstairs to shadowed cool and lay her on my desk, beside my computer, and study her carefully. Her wide black pair of upper wings are marked with symmetrical chrome yellow patches, a touch of blue and orange on each bottom wing, meeting about the yellow-tipped “tails.” All I can do, I think to myself, is wait for her to die.
this shall be her bed
cooled darkness laps around her
wings shudder gently
She quivers, curling and uncurling her black tongue, her six black lace legs folded tightly against her thorax. Inspired, I go to the water fountain and fill a glass with water and return to my desk. I take a tiny drop of cold water on my fingertip
and it fall where her tongue can reach it. She extends the black coil of her slender tongue and the drop of water, to my amazement, slowly disappears. I give her another drop, another, and finally, she drinks no more and, with spread wings, lies quietly.
tongue a coiled black spring
reaches for crystal dewdrop
thrice she drinks her fill
The next morning I find her stiff and beautiful in death. I turn her over tenderly and study the pale yellow counter-markings, stippled with black, a design of blue and orange across the smaller set of wings, equally exquisite in reverse.
unchanged by death’s throes
black marked yellow wings spread wide
sleeping beauty rests
I gaze at her and wonder sadly at a fate so cruel that a creature so fair
should flutter into a prison of cement and glass, to expire far from the cool aura of dew-laden plants that would have eased her thirst and her slow dying – and I am grateful that I found her and perhaps was able to ease her death myself.
so fair a creature
claimed by dry and dusty death
goes eased by mercy
Later I will ask Catherine, one of the lawyers whose hobby is photography, to take a photo of her that I then share with others. She herself I place high on the wall of my little office, where she lingers until, finally, her wing lose their luster.
three drops of water
she drank to relieve her thirst
butterfly at peace
Type of Feedback Desired: General
If at first you don't succeed--