Tag Archives: butterfly
Surveyor in New England, a prose poem
And so, since there were no detailed official maps, he named small lakes after himself, solitary hills, even shy, dusty lanes marked only by the great thumping hooves of his horse — a patient, taciturn beast, dun-colored, remarkable mainly for the seven white spots on its flank, arranged like the constellation Ursa Major.
Back then, a hundred years ago, electrical-survey men like him sweated gracefully during summer, their cheeks burnt into dark Scotch grain, their hairlines preserved white as milk under the dimpled felt of U.S.-issue hats. Though he was the youngest of the crew, his moustache grew enviably broad and full, waxed close at the tips, bowed under his classical nose like the extended wings of a pigeon.
Reining to a stop, as he slid down, he pulled from the saddle-bags yet another wooden stake flagged with a length of wrinkled red muslin, kneeling to pound it into the rocky Vermont ground, leaving it there for eternity.
As he rode on farther north — past the tall flowering weeds around Lovell Pond, the drunken bees bouncing off his boots — continuing along the route he’d laid out for the electric poles to follow, he thought of his mother: the way her fierce blue eyes glittered on foggy mornings, the way his father caressed her wrist at the dinner table, and, above all, how skillfully she ironed, gripping the rag-wrapped handle, fluttering the heavy, blunt-nosed tool over the damp white cotton of his shirts in rhythms as comforting and certain and lovely as the slow tick of a butterfly’s wings as it feeds from the bright center of a blossom.
Dearest, dearest God, my old teacher, my new teacher,
my classmate, my expedition, my mountain, my valley,
my sea, my river, my lake, my cloud, my tree, my rock,
my butterfly, my sweet love: Your new minister is a dear,
from New Orleans, young and trembling and with a pretty,
shy wife and two darling baby girls. Picture of earnestness
and kindness. Admirable. I felt my soul blossoming today,
I was moved, shaken, made warm and soft and open
by the children’s beauty. And part of all that was You
inside me. So much love for You, it hurts my damn chest.
I confessed my sins today and was absolved. Do I believe?
Well, partly. Enough that I don’t feel like a hypocrite.
Perhaps I should. I don’t know. I have no answers and
hardly any coherent questions. Mostly I am struck dumb
by all of this, all of this happening in my body and my mind
and my heart and my soul. It is profound. It is an opportunity.
I will not squander this precious gift, rest assured.
Simple things have become all the more profound and
complex things all the more understandable. Just heard
a strange noise coming from my daughter’s bathroom.
Both cats were on the counter with the goldfish bowl
up to their little catty elbows in same. Dripping wet,
they looked at me guiltily. I hissed, “Get your paws
out of there, ladies!” They fled, in haste and apprehension.
I did not follow to administer further lectures.
They’re cats, after all. Cats will fish, given the chance.
And absent lovers will pine. And awakened souls
will soar heavenward. Doesn’t life contain much
logically predictable inevitability which is nonetheless,
each time it presents itself, a mystery and a revelation?
I have gone mad with gratitude. Every thing
existing seems a gift. An opportunity. Priceless.
Even if I never get to live in Your arms again, know this:
I am Yours, forever. It is the first time I have felt this way
toward someone not my own child. I cannot imagine
the set of facts that would alter my feelings for You.
While watching Your last meteor shower, I thought of all our
souls — how we are all like meteors, our pinpoint of brilliance,
the variability of our paths — some meteors appear bright
but have no echoing trail — others are dimmer but leave
a long streak of fire in their wake — some travel in twos
or threes, others singly. I am dancing on the razor’s edge
between gratitude for this passion existing at all, and greed
for more of it, more of it, always more of it. No patience.
No patience with Your plan — wanting more knowledge,
even knowing how Cassandra received foreknowledge and
killed herself in the end, because it was too much for her.
So glad I don’t know but panicked that I don’t know
all at the same time. What Baby said: the sky
was gray and overcast, yet there was no rain,
borderline gloomy but also very pleasing in a way —
she said, “It’s a beautiful day today.” I agreed.
The sun was behind a layer of gray, you could still tell
it was there, you could see the disc behind the gray,
it had a translucent light, and though you couldn’t see,
exactly, the brightness, you knew it was there. Like You.
Today was a miracle, You were there with me
everywhere I went, except I couldn’t see You.
And neither could anyone else. I stood on the beach
between the surf and the dunes and listened to the waves
roar their white noise of love. There I met a cockatoo
named Pumpkin, she was gorgeous snowy white
with orange eyes, and I lulled her to sleep. “Pretty girl,”
I said to her, stroking her sweet feathers. “Pretty girl.”
She cocked her head and trilled at me. I think
her owner was surprised when she didn’t want to go
back to his arm from mine. Later, I bought a nightgown
printed with leaves, that makes me feel like a tree nymph.
I wish I could wear it for You. What I’ve learned:
the correct question is not, after all, could I/would I
kill Hitler. The question is, could I/would I love Hitler?
Thank You, God, my tutor, my scholar, my journey,
my height, my hollow, my ocean, my stream, my shore, my billow,
my standing timber, my paving stone, my mortar, my luscious beloved.