Butterfly Poetry and Critique by Elizabeth Gordon

Elizabeth Gordon

Elizabeth Gordon

 A New Poem, with Some Comments on Its Origin by Elizabeth Gordon

fall monarch butterfly

fall monarch butterfly

for Mary Ellen
What is love for
if not to give
to a poisonous insect?
Love should be challenging.
Where’s the thrill
in loving puppies or ponies
dimpled babies or cheery daffodils?
Love instead
the wormlike larva
whose first meal is the eggshell it squirmed from
who by its own gluttony outgrows its body four times
and four times eats its own shedded skin
before wrapping itself inside a green tomb
that morphs into a womb
and wetly births
a six-legged thing
with the compound eyes of a fly
a tongue like a coiled spring
and silent beating black-veined wings.
Love the one who will not cuddle in your lap
who cannot admire or obey or exude perfume
whose color says
consider this a warning.
Love anyway.
Love the one who takes your hospitality
and your nectary hope
and the prayers you pray
and leaves you
always leaves you
staring at the sky
your eyes stinging in the wind
waiting for that spark of orange fire
to light your world again.


I’d been invited to participate in a poetry reading in honor of Earth Day 2013 at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist church, which my husband and I had recently joined. But what to read?

Always heedful—perhaps too heedful—of others’ expectations, I assumed most people would be anticipating poetry that celebrated the glories of nature: the sunrises and sunsets, the flowers, the seasons, the birdsong, the purple mountains’ majesty—you get the picture. Not that I don’t find “nature” glorious (though even the attempt to define nature, much less enumerate its glories, leads to its own predicaments), but the nature in my poems has seldom been the kind that’s traditionally celebrated. Meaning, I suppose, that it’s neither inspirational nor ephemeral. I like things gritty. Always have.

When others search the skies for rainbows, I’m squatting in the leaf duff, budging half-rotten logs, hoping to meet the shy creatures hiding in that beautiful, dank darkness. Maybe because I felt icky about myself for much of my childhood (okay, for much of my adulthood too), I’m drawn to facets of the planet that most others find icky, or at least not worthy of positive attention. These are my peeps: the silent, coiled and uncoiling snake; the slow and sticky-skinned salamander; the mantis twisting her neck in a measured swivel; the tiny, purposeful ant bearing his impossible load; the spent dairy cow, knees crumpling, being thrashed to keep her walking those final, painful steps toward the kill line.

On the other hand—and, somehow, there must always be an other hand—I’d met an amazing woman at the UU who seemed to me to embody a love and zeal for the natural world that was based not on hokey clichés but on genuine knowledge. Mary Ellen Ryall puts her science and her wisdom and her concern into action. This I admire immensely. Though she is known primarily for her expertise on butterflies, especially the monarch, Mary Ellen understands that the monarch is part of something much, much bigger—the “biotic community” that Aldo Leopold describes in A Sand County Almanac(1948):

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

I decided I wanted to write a new poem for the Earth Day reading, and since I’d been so inspired by Mary Ellen’s grace, intelligence, and passion for all earth’s inhabitants, I thought I’d try to write one for her. Of course, it had to be about her beloved monarch butterfly. But me being me, I knew that my poem had to be gritty, by which I mean not ugly or intentionally bleak, but simply real. And it occurred to me that the way to do this would be to write a poem that reminded us that butterflies belong to that despised category of animal life colloquially known as “bugs.” Scientifically, the classInsecta, which includes reviled species such as flies, mosquitos, termites, wasps, and cockroaches. Somehow, because our culture has sentimentalized and romanticized butterflies as symbols of beauty, the fact that they are (poisonous!) insects (and not “flying flowers”) escapes us.

(There’s a wonderful short story, “Butterflies,” by Maori author Patricia Grace that hinges on, among other things, the disconnect between those who understand the butterfly as a biological creature and those for whom it is merely the representation of an idea. When I teach this story in my college writing classes, almost every student—not surprisingly—fails to “get it.” Does our biotic community’s critical condition have anything to do with the fact that we’ve allowed connotation to obscure denotation? I believe so.)

That’s why my poem emphasizes the creatureliness, not the symbolization, of the monarch. To honor a thing, we must know it, insofar as we can, for what it is, which to me is more important than what itmeans—or rather, maybe I’m trying to say that what something means cannot/should not be distinct from what it actually is. Which reminds me of the last lines of Archibald Macleish’s poem “Ars Poetica”:

        A poem should not mean

        But be.


by Susan Engebrecht

Roadways and water lead to a tract of land where plants,
people, birds, and butterflies gather.
Sounds of traffic and beach laughter drift through
this windowless sanctuary.
Under the roof of a blue or rainy sky
joy, color, life, and remembrances are shared.
Herbs, flowers, and tree weave tapestries
that flutter in this wall-less place.
The pock-marked floor is patterned
with human and wildlife footfalls.
The four direction rocks act as anchors while
benches of stone and wood offer rest.
Land blessed by human tradition and nature
offers sanctuary to all that enter.

Republished with copyright permission from Happy Tonics, Inc.

A Mother

A Mother

by Father Keith Mason

As God planned for all creations

In those days of genesis

He Instituted qualities

Of sweetness and of bliss!

God lifted veils of darkness

As He pondered what should be –

As birth evolves through water,

God made one common sea!

To continents HE then gave birth,

He planted trees and flowers;

He gave the earth some animals

And rained some warm spring showers!

When God he finished all that work,

He raised His eyes in wonder –

That His creation, beautiful,

No force aspire to plunder!

He moved the gates of Heaven – in love –

He breathed life to another;

From deep inside His caring heart,

God gave the world – a Mother!

Source: “A Medley of Words,” published by The Joys of Writing Group, Fitchburg Senior Center, 2012

Poet Laureate Honors Veterans with Poetry

Recently I contacted Veterans Writing Project,  Washington, DC, before reading about a writing effort in North Carolina for the benefit of Veterans. I hope to spark interest in writing by Vets, by republishing short poems and articles here. On Facebook I will publish at Butterfly Woman Publishing page.

I though the poem below fits our message of transformation through the wings of the butterfly.

Saint Francis’s Satyr Butterfly

by Joseph Bathanti

All creatures have the same source as we have.

Saint Francis of Assisi

A reclusive small brown butterfly,
white and yellow stigmatic suns

deployed along its wing ridges,
Saint Francis’s Satyr – christened

after the 12th century Italian soldier
and POW turned mystic –

secretes itself, miraculously,
in 10 by 10 kilometers

of the 251 square mile brash
of Fort Bragg – exact coordinates classified –

beyond which – we know this much –
it has gone undetected. Shy, endangered,

preferring anonymity, it hides
in high artillery impact domains –

life often chooses death –
the fires triggered by bombardment.

It wears Marsh camouflage,
resembles in its favored habitat –

blasted sedge and beaver ruins –
a tiny standard issue

Advanced Combat Helmet.
Parsed from the chrysalis,

rent too soon from its dream of living,
the satyr blazes in desperate glory

but three or four days,
in its imaginal stage,

then tenders its life in writ sacrifice.
Its gorgeous numbers dwindle.

The caterpillar has never been seen.
We accept, on faith, metamorphosis.

Joseph Bathanti

“Award-winning poet, Appalachian State University professor and advocate for literacy Joseph Bathanti was named North Carolina’s poet laureate in October 2012, he announced plans to work with veterans to share their stories through poetry.”

Source: Appalachian Today 

“”As Poet Laureate, I find myself suddenly in a position to make something very meaningful happen in North Carolina by serving as a lightning rod to publicize these programs, create a consortium of thought and action among them, and help create a sustainable collaborative model for teaching writing workshops for vets that can be duplicated and delivered anywhere in the state.”

Note: Joseph Bathanti is connected to Veterans Writing Project in Washington, DC., that published a link to the poem at Appalachian Today.

As a published author: I want to assist with a writing project in Fitchburg, MA, for Veterans. I have this Blog and Butterfly-Woman-Publishing.com to assist with getting the word out for Veterans who want to tell their story. America needs to know that when  someone serves in the Military, there is often a price to pay in the aftermath of war.  As Americans, we need to support Veterans for the rest of their lives. I speak about connection with Vets and giving our hearts to them. They have made untold sacrifices for our freedom.

I have been pondering the butterfly today. It is amazing that I didn’t know of this species. It resides in North Carolina only and in a very small area.

St. Francis of Assisi satyrs butterfly

St. Francis of Assisi satyrs butterfly

“St. Francis’ satyr, Neonympha mitchellii francisci, is one of the most imperiled butterflies in North America. First discovered in 1983, its range is restricted to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina (NC), where several small subpopulations persist in glades along streams (Parshall and Kral, 1989; Hall, 1993; Hall and Hoffman, 1994).  ”

Source: http://www4.ncsu.edu/~haddad/Publications/articles/Kuefler_et_al_2008AMN.pdf

What an amazing tale. According to “A Pocket Guide to Butterflies and Moths,” the butterfly is inconspicuous,brown color with eye spots on wings. The butterfly has at least one eye spot on their underside. The eye spot acts to deter predators from attacking.  Poor butterfly. Reminds me of the Karner blue that  is also endangered. The Karner blue lives in Upper State New York, Saratoga County, NY, and in Douglas County, WI. Both species live in a narrow strip of land and can’t survive outside of their limited habitat. The satrys butterfly species likes rotting fruit and honeydew.