To me, the butterfly is the most beautiful of all the earth’s creatures. To me, the butterfly represents the height of beauty, virtue, and innocence. Still, I once hunted butterflies. I collected one of every species I could find. I knew their names, colors, diets, habitats, and flight patterns. (I never knew their Latin names.) I collected them, as I understand now, in an attempt to grasp and bring into myself their beauty. Of course, over time they disintegrated into dust. Now I thrill to watch them fly. Now I understand that I cannot find beauty by killing it and displaying it on a wall. Beauty exists outside of us in creatures like butterflies, and arises from within us as we are kind and true. This poem is about my son’s choice, from the beginning, to let the butterflies live.
“I caught it! I caught it!” cried the boy
over the weed-whacker whir
after waving his pole-clamped pillowcase
across the sky.
Two wide eyes and a victory smile
raced to the porch where
two trembling hands
coaxed the delicate creature
through the screened bug-box door.
A bundle of awe,
the boy sat still and stared
at this astonishing bringing-together
of color and form,
at this life.
Father watched from the garden rows,
remembering his own youth’s hunt
for small, helpless prey,
whose fate was to rot
with a pin through the thorax,
and a tag with a name and a date.
But the magical fluttering rainbows had faded
fast behind their showcase.
“Nice catch, son,” father admired
with a pat and a ruffle.
“What are you going to do with him?”
“Well, I think I’ll watch him for a while, and
then I’ll let him go.”
Good boy, father sighed, as
a boy released his heart’s hold and
a captive rainbow again
graced the sky.