I found this on a flowering weed in Castlewood Park on a day I was looking for birds. Butterfly? Moth? To be honest, I didn’t know. And then I learned that the butterfly has a bulb at the end of its antenna, unlike the moth and its feathered one, and a hooked tip called the “apiculus.” The name of this butterfly? Such beautiful names to wander through: Swallowtails and Hairstreaks, Elfins and Metalmarks and Gossamer-winged. Just the names begin to find a poem. This little guy is part of the Grass Skippers Family, perhaps a Least Skipper, weak in the wings, or an Orange Skipperling, its eggs orange-ringed and its larva rolling up in a single blade of grass. I don’t really care which butterfly it is: I woke up and couldn’t sleep and now a coyote has wandered down the suburban drainage ditch a block from our house to sing and I’ve been thinking about poetry and found this poem by Pavel Friedmann, who wrote this one day in 1942 in the Theresienstadt concentration camp beneath a white chestnut and gave it to me, tonight, and now me to you:
He was the last. Truly the last. Such yellowness was bitter and blinding Like the sun’s tear shattered on stone. That was his true colour. And how easily he climbed, and how high, Certainly, climbing, he wanted To kiss the last of my world.
I have been here for seven weeks, ‘Ghettoized’. Who loved me have found me, Daisies call to me, And the branches also of the white chestnut in the yard. But I haven’t seen a butterfly here. That last one was the last one. There are no butterflies, here, in the ghetto.
Have you ever held the shell of something in your hand for a long time and loved it and never known it until, one day, you learn the name of it, like Moon Snail?
Here it is. And here it will be, too:
I am thinking about the hand I found in Indiana, a mole’s hand, when I was somewhere near ten years old, back-walking from a bulldozed pond along a foot and cow path in an Indiana field my father owned. His weekend escape from medicine and the hospital rounds he’d leave us for in the Sunday afternoons of our returning. It was 1968, fifty-four years ago from where I sit now in my quiet Colorado study, a blue spruce at the window where chickadees fly, and where it brushes the eves in our February wind, and where I hold the shell of a moon snail I found in a sea drift a summer ago in Cape Cod with my love, as if it were time, salt-riped and smoothed, I cup in my hands.
First, there is the necessary quiet of close grass, of fallen rodent, belly up in the path of your wanting. This morning, all you loved disappeared, ghosts you’ve kept in your palms, the tip of your tongue. Now you stoop to the wide paths reckless others have shoe-ed into the mud. Above the flooded salt quarry, a woman hugs her knees. She will not waver in the hour you walk the wide lake, peering one-eyed for heron through your lens. Then, nothing, until you are back at the beginning, the water of a blue reservoir you had long forgotten spilling out of a pipe at your feet, water so quiet, you think, this is why the birds rush in. A heron hugs the lakeshore; a heron balances on the gray curves of a tree fallen so many years ago that it floats upon the water’s light. Long-necked, short-necked, the heron wait for the sun. Their feathers are the light hairs of moss the wind tassels. Why do you wait at the edge of the water, the camera heavy in your cold hands, waiting for cloud, for sun, for the stretch of wing, the long dangling feet of departure? A quick moment and the heron sheds a bit of itself, just one color the camera opens its eye for, then shuts: a blue shade gripping the half-cave of a tree that keeps trying to bury itself. Soon you will drive home. Soon you will cook, sit by a fire, prop your camera at the table’s edge to see what you have taken.