In grade school I was envious and horrified while examining butterflies under glass, hundreds of them, my friend’s father had pinned to boards under glass. They were for collecting only, it seemed, not even for admiring. And I couldn’t tell if it was the display of power this man possessed, to acquire such wealth, or my curiosity of the far off places he’d traveled to collect his specimens, but I wanted this. I wanted to have these colorful butterflies all around me, to examine and magnify and study the fine filaments of hair trailing their striped wings. But I didn’t want them dead. I stayed up all night at this friend’s house imagining ways to resuscitate these butterflies and set them free. Have I said that I was a very analytical child?
I wanted them as pets, to walk up the backs of my hands, up my forearms to my shoulder like a parrot. I wanted them to land in my hair. To sleep on my nightstand. I wanted to balance each of them, one by one, on the tip of my index finger so I could bring them close to my nose, and study them as they opened and closed their wings, then looked me in the eye as what, I don’t know, a fellow traveler visiting the beautiful flowers a friend had, I had, planted for us.
Today monarchs are out as soon as the sun rises, even as many of my flowers have wilted. There are viceroys and queens and little yellows and clouded sulfurs and this morning, in addition to the monarchs, there was a female black swallowtail with iridescent blue wings, one torn, who kept landing next to me in the grass, taking off, circled only to land again a few feet away, again and again while I worked on my first cup of coffee. Who needs two hundred dead butterflies pinned to wide boards under glass with tiny typed labels, when they live and fly around my yard eight months of the year. Here’s a monarch.
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