Monday, September 2, 2013

Poet Peggy Marks Wahlhaus on the butterfly's longevity

                             A BUTTERFLY LIVES ONLY
well, it all depends doesn’t it
on when you think life starts.

First of all, even the final perfect stage
is romantically mythed as lasting
only one day. Lepidopterists give it
as a few weeks, depending on predators:
“Some, the  hardiest, can last for months”
(funny to think of butterflies as hardy).
There are, of course, butterflies
and butterflies.

We could cogitate, waste years philosophizing
as to which came first in the scheme of things –
the egg or the butterfly,
and if it was forced out of Eden
and if it fluttered into the Ark?

Let’s rather follow the little egg
which a brief-lived mother lays,
become a greedy and not very charming
grub, a caterpillar, cannibalizing its own eggshell,
eating its heart out on the leaf bed
splitting skin frequently to enclose
its rapidly obese body

become a hard case, a pupa, more charmingly named
chrysalis.  Skin toughens
existing tissue breaks down – part of it dies,
adult structures form;  scarcely perceptible
shadow images of incipient wings appear
shape of things to come,

and then, delight! a birth! this new creature unfolds,
wet like a fresh-born calf, dries with trembling ,
discovers wings, every colour of every flower
of every polished jewel, hovers.
An exquisite new being is born.
Then the day (or days) of joy

of delicate stepping into trumpet flowers
dipping into nectar,  looping
lightly through sunlight
preening its opalescent beauty.

Finally – or is it finally -
let’s wonder if it fell, crept someplace
to lie broken, trampled into the earth,
insignificant insect husk;
whereas the wings, the exquisite wings

would they fly to butterfly paradise
a brief respite
before the dipping into mud earth again
to find another ugly body to light up
into loveliness?

About our poet:

         Peggy Marks Wahlhaus was born in South Africa where she studied and taught speech pathology, specialising in stuttering.  She emigrated to Australia on a Distinguished Talents visa, and has been involved in this work, as well as in teaching communication skills.  Peggy has written a children's book in verse, The Elps of the Airport, about small invisible people who push planes into the air.  She is also a published poet.

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  1. I enjoyed the poem greatly. The intent thought about the way the butterfly comes and goes, the detail, really pleased me. That mixture of science and whimsy. Thanks a lot Peggy (and Stephanie for posting it).

  2. I am determined to persuade Peggy to share more poetry with us. She sees the world through a poet's gaze; we need more of that!