The first butterfly I saw this close was dead too. Or nearly.
It was in a shiny black jewelry box my mother emptied into her purse
to make a quick bed in the parking lot of Goldfines Furniture store.
I must have seen it first; one wing lifting and dropping past critical to hopeless.
Maybe it was enough to save her from hot pavement and being stepped on.
So we brought a butterfly home to die.
We laid her out in the hutch. A quiet place in the company of good plates
and orange grapes made of glass and wood. She deserved this much.
I would go to her there
open the lid, and let the heart punch hit the breath right out of me; again and again.
The neighbors had a mayonnaise jar biome in the downstairs bathroom.
Nail-punched top and a single twig, some green drip of a thing hung from a tiny tree knuckle.
A cocoon, they said; like I’d get it from there.
I watched it grow fat and dark like rot, until the day it was gone,
replaced by a dried up wisp and a crisp new butterfly.
I was trapped; me in that room and her in that jar.
Did anyone know? Were they going to keep it like a fish or a hamster?
And what if they did let her out? She was born too fragile.
I could feel her wing snap, slap to the grill of a car, crush into the hot dry pours of a sidewalk.
What could possibly cost less to destroy than a butterfly.
My friend with hair like a campfire in clouds
has a full open monarch in her living room window.
She found it the week her grandmother died.
And because she is the sort of person
who would pick up a dead butterfly and take it home, she did.
And then she saw them everywhere.
What red-headed grandmother wouldn’t love this granddaughter best?
And how could her death not bring butterflies to flame her with the color of their hair?
Today, this tissue of a thing draws me in to touch it. I can’t.
Until I do. A dead butterfly is a tippy thing on a scribbly body.
I see my finger move it. But I do not feel it. So I lift it at the tips and lay it in my hand.
Brave enough even to turn it over.
It is most beautiful underneath, where the papery wings buckle like dried paper.
I expect her to crumble where I touch her, or dust out of my open palm.
She does not.