Learning the Difference
–Winner of the 2018 Bermuda Triangle Prize
I escaped to the woods. I escaped
among the birch saplings and planted hemlocks
who did not care if I wore my brothers’ castoffs
or carried a jackknife
or learned to braid deer-sinew
and grapevine bark and cedar lashings
but not my classmates’ hair.
I waded through shin-deep May-apple,
waist-high ostrich fern
and knew exactly what to call them
if anyone were to ask but they didn’t
because I walked the woods alone. Company
was cardinals, male and female and
their love-whistles back-and-forth
in the juniper trees.
Glad presence was the red-tail
who came in early spring to line her nest
with fresh twigs and get down to the business
of eons, of procreation,
of instinct. Procreation redundant: pro = forward.
Who ever heard of creating backward?
I’d have sat with the red-tail in her nest,
but never saw, on the horizon
of further seasons, one of my own.
–Finalist of the 2018 Bermuda Triangle Prize
This child knew only the colloquial: butterfly bush.
Only knew it gathered
small brown skippers that couldn’t be told apart
and the large brown silver-spot I loved
simply because I knew its name.
The painted ladies, American
and Cosmopolitan, distinguished by the swirls
on their underwings, the spots telling
which stayed home and which roamed the universe.
The cosmos must have fewer stars
Swallowtails: black and blue,
black and green, black and gold. Prizes
like gemstones in air not ash
and grime, the veins of them marked
so clearly to me. On days the monarchs came,
I marred the stained glass of their upper windows,
a felt-tipped band by which I’d know them
if they returned: mine. My brother had affixed
the generations before with small white tags
that bore his name.
I never felt bold enough to attach my name to wings
and did not understand how such film
could carry the slightest bit more weight.
But I wanted them to return
like the heaviest of magic stones.
Brother and sisters, in their migrations,
no sustenance to call them back
the way the skippers came
to the fragrant florets that reached the human child
I was across the exurban quarter acre. We were
alternately brown and bright
in secret, flashed our wings.
The concrete corner some mornings was gravity.
Stepping to the wet grass disallowed, the keeping
of shoes from ruin crucial, no matter what
the morning wonder.
Keep to the boxed path, asquare the house and back to start.
Dungareed and cotton-teed, could have been any boy
or girl, either/or, with desires eluding.
I had nothing solid, only symbols,
and it’s hard to be rational
when the bones that built you
are made of faith.
I didn’t know I was allowed to take up room.