If I said that the monarch butterfly
My daughter raised from larva to adult
Was an enchanting metaphor that crawled
Into our lives, then lofted, winged, out—
It wouldn’t be quite true. I could write that
We watched it sail across our backyard fence,
Incarnate mirror of our transformations
From potency to glory set in act.
But this is reinterpretation, loss
Of nuances that lingered round its edge.
    One summer day she caught the caterpillar
Clinging beneath an oblong milkweed leaf
With black-white-yellow stripes that called to mind
The pattern of a poorly chosen tie.
She clutched the milkweed and its tenant, both,
And set them in a netted habitat,
A ragged cage, much-pierced by prior attempts
At insect husbandry. Voraciously
It ate the bitter milkweed leaves. Its mouth
Chewed on and on with all the stubborn force
Of instinct’s blind intelligence, and soon
Each leaf had disappeared. But then the frass,
Digestion’s blunt inevitability,
Began to pile up. I asked my girl
To clean it up, for even bugs might need
A sanitary home. She never did,
And I forgot to check, too occupied
With toys and crumbs and errant laundry piles,
The loose detritus scattered through our home.
     We missed the forming of the chrysalis,
The shedding of the caterpillar stripes
To make way for the emerald sleeping case,
Distracted from such wonders by the crush
Of day-to-day. But when the case turned clear
And we could see the wings of orange and black,
We watched our folded friend make shuddering sighs
That shook its hanging home, and knew the end
Was near. My daughter saw it first, the wet
Young butterfly that clung inverted there
To its old shell, like some odd shipwrecked soul
Still ignorant of the complexities
Of air. But soon the crumpled wings grew taut
And pumped a careful rhythm in the cage.
My daughter let it go that afternoon,
Its colors flashing warnings in the sky,
Its beauty telling tales of acrid feasts.
    Perhaps I should conclude to say how we
Might do the same, bear bitterness aloft,
Above our dens of frass and skeleton leaves.
But I think that’s a rough attempt to patch
The nettings of this fraying world, to tie
Its messy cords into a neatened bow—
I’d rather trace the weave that tangles here
That strains its rough embrace around our wings.