In the Butterfly Aviary

      January: the glare
              of ice over grey roads,
      but inside this
              steamy terrarium
                      everything’s heated up

      to a steady eighty. Even
              the guard’s in his element,
      vacationing for the day
              in Brazil, or leading a tour
                      through an Amazon rain forest.

      When the Blue Morpho alights
              on his cap, he announces, “The largest
      butterfly in the house,”
              to the schoolchildren who catch
                      on their shoulders the smaller parcels,

      checkerspots, admirals,
              and the rare Archduke, for which
      the guard summons his reverence.
              It might well be a circus,
                      those two metalmarks perched

      on the teacher’s hair, or the sulphur
              chasing a red-cheeked girl,
      but the guard ushers the class
              to the chrysalis in the corner
                      where rebirth is the lesson.

Brief lesson! It’s kindergarten,
              so he isn’t surprised when the children
      move on to the Atlas Moth
              spread flat on the oleander.
                      They’d like to stretch out like that

      in the heat and give up their loads
              of snowsuits and strings of mittens
      which they drop, just thinking it, under
              a blizzard of Blue-winged Hairstreaks
                      from Costa Rica. No,

      it isn’t these fancy imports
              who’ve stolen the show, but simply
      the pool under the mango,
              which the children are drifting toward
                      with the tigerwings, sprawling out

      on the moss-covered brink where a boy
              opens his palm and produces
      a pebble, letting it slip
              overboard in an instant.
                      For a moment the morning’s quiet

      as they lie watching the leaves
              reflected in ripples, stirring
      the warm bath with their fingers,
              swallowtails on their backs,
                      which they hardly notice, as if

      the sky weren’t glass and that ledge
              of snow hung on the leaded
      bars holding it up
              were only a cloud passing over
                      their hands dipped in the mirror

      everything’s tumbled under:
              trees, vines, butterflies, sky,
      and the guard’s wavery face
              staring back with their own from a place
                      they had almost forgotten, summer.
Patricia Hooper’s poems have appeared in The American Scholar, The Atlantic
Monthly, The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry, The Southern Review
, and other
magazines. Her most recent books are
At the Corner of the Eye (Michigan State
University Press),
Aristotle’s Garden (Bluestem Press), and a forthcoming collection
that won the Anita Claire Scharf Award from the University of Tampa Press.