Lessons in Lepidoptery

Melina Papadopoulos

i. Serenade for Wolf Moths and Mournful Poets

We always return to the moon.
It waits howl-spangled, record-scratched
across all the best night ballads,
cathartic as a cat’s eye taking light
through a milky cataract.

We become nocturnal
when our words keep us awake.
We stir as though from cocoons,
poets named by scientists.
We pore over field guides,
identify ourselves.

Lettered Sphinx – abdomen
carved up, memorial in chicken-scratch.
Dizzied by the woodwork
of our own oaken wings.

We repeat our names
until they gain meaning,
a genus, a family.

ii.The Wingspan of an Atlas Moth in Translation

Nostalgic for church bells,
incense that with its stern aroma
startled me into reverence,

plant my candle in the sand —
In the moment, fear of fire quelled
as an answer to prayer.

For all the wrong reasons,
stained glass moves me.
I am easier to confront
as mosaic, assertive
in my rejection of sun|
as a hasty spill of light.

I chose two surfaces to study —
the cold static waters of a plastic globe
and the pilgrim-penned flight of the Atlas moth.
Wingspan tantalizing in a forgotten Greek alphabet,
bilateral deltas revealed before flight.

The first time I identified Greece on my globe,
I wondered at its mosaicked anatomy,
unlike the resolute fullness
I thought classified land into countries.

iii. A Revised Map for Monarchs

What compels a monarch butterfly into wanderlust:

Sun in its systematic sweep
over archipelagos of milkweed,
rain that hitches rides on worn thoraxes,
air quivering with the pliable heat
mirages are made of.

A knapsack of biological tools —
a dizzied compass
unfamiliar to direction but partial
to the steadfast plod of mornings,
evenings with worn soles,
a circadian clock with its sense of rhythm
invested in storm-beams.

A monarch without its antennae
has no sense of place,

spends migration as the poet
who can’t define a desert,
can’t name a valley,
can’t sleep somberly
in the collapsed shadow
of the chrysalis.

iv. The Morphos and Memory

I startle at their size,
all wing, bodies poised
like broken punctuation
in a dead language’s poetry.

They erupt from dreams,
not as insects but as pilgrims
whose wings bear thirsting bodies
of water among black expanses.

Awaken —

I remember my naptime quilt
pristine with a pink underbelly,
fabric boasting swallowtails, viceroys,
painted ladies, all flightless in their splendor,

how I wouldn’t sleep. How I would spend my life
preserving instead a swath of faded cloth
teeming with milkweed, wisps of dandelion run-off,
faint lilies suspended in pinkish mire,

how it took me five years to write this poem,
first in the form of an essay whose language
stagnated in its own motif, then in
the transition between silence

and having something to say.

How I will never call this a poem at all
but a migration of self,
circadian elegy, cathartic taxonomy.

MELINA PAPADOPOULOS is a student at Baldwin Wallace University. Her work has appeared in Jelly Bucket, Booth, apt, and Roanoke Review, among others.