If There Is a Butterfly That Drinks Tears
If there is a butterfly that drinks tears let it drink the tears of mothers. Down South great walls begin to spring up between butterfly preserves at the speed ice sheets break off in Antarctica. Monarchs fight to find a place to overwinter. Target holes in their wings, a ragged curtain left hanging in a house too long. If I step off this path and crush a butterfly underfoot will my misstep ripple through time? On the siding of our cottage, my four-year-old spies a chrysalis. In the high overhead light we observe the translucent veil between two worlds, the pulse of a heartbeat, the stained glass window outline of wings. There are ‘ooos’ and ‘aaahs.’ With two sticks in hand my son plays crocodile and whacks the chrysalis, splitting it from the cremaster. I scream, ‘No!’ Insides turn to liquid. The turtle does not turn her head, she plods on, a map of the Milky Way carved onto the shell she carries on her back. If there is a butterfly that drinks tears let it drink the tears of children who do not understand their mother’s anger. I pick up the chrysalis from the ground, set it on a warm ledge and hope for the best. I try to explain action and consequence to my four-year old, but to him there is only the action and reaction of an impassive, amoral toddler-dictator. The caterpillar digests itself, turns to liquid inside the chrysalis before it is made into a butterfly. In that soup there are cells that survive this process; imaginal discs. These cells hold onto a memory of what they are to become. How do we remember who we’re meant to be? A sip of salt, imaginal discs, a scatter of minerals, infinitesimal elements in a stew that keeps us alive. In the Amazon, Julia butterflies drink the tears of turtles; the sweat of animals; humans, and given the chance, crocodile tears, too. This poem was published in The Weekend Australian in February 2020 and won the Katharine Susannah Prichard Poetry Prize.
The science inspiring the piece:
Reading a National Geographic story about Julia butterflies in the Amazon, which is now this video, inspired my poem. This article in HuffPost gives a little more information on the topic of lachryphagy. And, at the time of writing, President Trump was proposing to build a wall between the US and Mexico which meant the destruction of a butterfly preserve between the US/Mexico border for Monarch and other butterflies, which you can read about here.
Listen to Natalie read the poem: