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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: