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Bryan Walpert

Recalling Your Explanation
of the Differences Among Lepidoptera

Drawn by moonlight from

our room, a moth attaches

to shadows in a backyard

whose objects are merely ideas


that will in six hours grow

sure of their colors, daylight

a place for the butterfly,

which seeks shady camouflage


of branch or leaf, the moth

a sort of extension of shade,

reaching always for light

it is denied, each damned


to seek what the other wishes

to shed, though I should

avoid words like butterfly

not only because of a certain


sentimentality to which they

are attached but because

you taught me the Latin names—

Acherontia atropos


a reference to Acheron,

the underworld’s river of pain,

and Atropos, the Fate who cuts

life’s delicate thread—my mind


alighting tonight finally

on the notion that to recollect,

for you, is to love, to forget

a form of resistance,


as though you painstakingly

net each word as gift

for me to pin to the board

of memory, my own too often


like a moth, which gets its name

from an old word for gnawing

vermin, for given the chance

will replace wool with an inverse


of itself composed only of light,

while the origin of butterfly

has been forgotten, like so much

I’ve learned, some crediting


the Sulfur Butterfly’s color

or an old notion that these insects

drank dairy (the German

means butter thief), others


suggesting the name

a transmutation of what butterflies

do: flutter by, the lives

of Lepidoptera lasting less


than fourteen days. How long

is a day for any of us, the seconds

that divide now and before

barely pausing to hover above


our bodies, melting between

blinks into the browning hedges

of summer’s unkempt border

into fall? No answer from you


who have been hanging for hours

from the high branch of sleep,

transmuting the day’s longings

in the chrysalis of thought; no


telling how many moth years

passed in the hours I lay unsleeping

as its wings beat at our window like

the buzz of a lamp or the gnawing


of something unremembered,

before I briefly opened the glass,

a breeze ruffling the bedclothes,

then returned to wrap my limbs


in their gauze and watch the flurry

of your eyelids, knowing I will never

truly know the odd garments they thread,

the rivers of pain you imagine


you must create to cross, just as,

come morning, you will not

recollect my climb back into bed

or a window closing to the dark.


Currently a writing instructor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, Bryan Walpert will begin teaching creative writing in January at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand. His poems have appeared most recently in AGNI, Gulf Coast, The Drunken Boat, In Posse Review, Crab Orchard Review, Poet Lore, and the anthologies Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English (Wesleyan 2000) and 2001: A Science Fiction Poetry Anthology (Anamnesis Press 2001).  He is currently seeking a publisher for his completed manuscript, Still Life with Gerund.

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