In the Salt Marsh: Poems (2004)

The Butterfly Forest

Sir, your scalp turns shy, yanked
into light, veiled by hair
so thinned by months of chemo
it lies like grass beaten flat
by the wind or the feet of trekkers
climbing away from the gardens,
the woods, the glad streams
toward the summit
where lives seen only in part
lie clear as cities asleep
under the gaze of pilots
ordered to bomb them. Today
you bustle us to this place
you have always wanted to see:
the butterfly forest
in the conservatory,
where captives do not know
they are captive, so lush
is their prison: hibiscus
and roses and passion vine,
the air warm and moist
to keep the blood moving
in these cold-blooded vamps
taking their ease in a spa,
their silken kimonos
fluttering. The zebra longwings
surround us
like a sprinkle of flying masks.
The viceroy, brown
with mildewy spots, closes
his dull book but opens
for the patient reader;
the painted ladies
flicker their shadows like tongues
tasting good gossip
and a ghostly kiss on the cheek.
They ride on our shoulders,
our hair. When we leave,
even you shake off ghosts
whose lives are half over.
The eccentrics, the shy,
the perfectly groomed
in their tails and cloaks,
even the bright ones
we would love to wear
in our cold world
want us to carry them.