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.