Butterfly Vision

Asterope optima 

I

A flash of blue sinking

into shadow I lure eyes

with the peek of mystery

like water or night

might lead to self-discovery

I bask in my own gravity

And swallow the fallen

II

I am the sharp refusal of temptation

Silvery base slipping into dark overcoat

Heart of fire clenched

The night steps on me and leaves

Rhythmic footprints

Out which I see

Multiple endings

A trail of blood

Cethosia biblis

I

Tucked in the neat scallop of borders

I appease

Expectations with my warm complexion

Delicate spots and dark accents

I fit

between the margins legible

to the hand translating

II

I am the blinding light just beyond

Honesty I scatter the bones

That show when you break free

Extend my jagged edges tenderly

Toward a day glow

that seeps and settles in layers

Ghosts of pages

A new language might read

Looking through the butterfly specimens at the Nature Lab, I did not employ any formal tools such as a microscope, but I found that the presentation of the specimens as flat and oriented toward a “front” side provided certain constrictions to how I interacted with it. Each butterfly specimen was pressed flat between two panes of glass, the two faces of its wings exposed on alternate sides. I noticed that the names were not always written on the same side, the “front” or “back” of the butterfly, but whichever its name drew from. For example, the Owl Butterfly’s label appeared on the back beside its reverse wings whose dark-centered spots resemble owl eyes whereas the Blue Hook wing bears its blue spots on the front. I was interested in how the names often drew from referential visuals, the patterns of the butterfly wings treated as a sort of face. True to the broader observations of Cornelia Hesse-Honegger in “Heteroptera”, despite their ability to circumrotate their wings around their eyes, butterflies are usually depicted with wings spread horizontally, accentuating symmetry. The aligned mirror images form a physiognomy by which humans identify and name each species despite the fact that the insect does not see or hear out of their face as we do ours.

Drawing from the striking difference across the two sides of many specimens, I wrote poems challenging the flatness of these insects, and attempting to articulate their decorative paradox. Adopting the paradigm of the two sides as faces, I wrote from the perspective of each specimen’s two personas, whom I imagined could hear but not see each other. While examining the pairs beside each other, I thought about how these colorful patches cover the wings, instruments of flight. As their wings flap rapidly to propel motion, I imagine the different faces of the butterfly blurring together. I did not consider this in this series of poems but would be interested to address it if I were to add more.

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