She dreamed that night of Butterfly Lane
where her brush could paint real-petal roses
and giggles grow into shimmering wings
She stepped onto the path, timid at first with wonder
“Come on,” the butterflies whispered, “Come with us!”
And soon she was running
and the path gave way
and she reached out her hand to the butterflies –
“Come with us!” they called from their home in the breeze
and she flew.
As it is, today –
doesn’t coffee taste delicious?
When it is warm with cream and sweet, like the very first taste
flowing over your suckling lips and tongue, filling the emptiness
that made you cry?
don’t the birds echo in your chest like friends
just out of reach in another room, making sounds
that you yearn toward, helpless as hunger?
As you rest your ribs and thighs against the crook of the sofa,
and warm your toes with the palm of your hand –
do you believe the reassurance of your own yielding embrace?
– and reach for sip of cold coffee
from the porcelain cup with violets
– and the birds explain themselves –
can you please remember that
today is just another day?
She was collecting butterflies. I remember looking through poster size sheets of art paper with her at Wisconsin Craft Supply, and she found one that was all Victorian butterfly illustrations. “You should definitely get that one,” I affirmed as she made the gut-wrenching choice between the tempting sheets of luscious color and texture she wanted and how much her meager budget allowed.
A few days after she died, I stood in her apartment, trying to absorb the total silence of her absence. Her finished work, propped against plain white walls, flimsy wicker bookshelves and chair legs, encircled the couch where she had last sat, painting. Finally, I saw what she had been making – a way out, a path to freedom and spirit transporting her further and further on wings of color and light.
Mistakes hurt. It is so much easier to punish myself than to accept that I’ve done something without thinking – or with a lot of thinking, for that matter – that caused pain. Self-punishment is the knot at the core of my stomach, the slender electric razor-wire that sizzles around my heart when I remember “it.”
Forgiving myself is the toughest survival skill I am having to learn. Forgiveness may be where butterflies come from.
I mentioned a while ago how much it meant to me to discover the still life images Joseph Sudek and Andre Kertesz made in the windows of their studios. (You’ll want to scroll down about a third of the way through the linked article to find the related photographs.) I was feeling very alone, making my little compositions – and worried that my vision was just banal. Within the threshold of their home’s view on the outside world, however, each artist had shaped work of the tenderest, most intimate sort. Embracing the fleeting intensity of pure perception and love, their windows reveal everything. To see what was right in front of them, to open so completely to something small and close – Kertesz and Sudek must have needed courage, too. Of course, their vision gave me hope.
I am not denying that Sudek’s large plates, and Kertesz’s diminutive polaroids made a home in my imagination. Their photographs freed me to cherish my modest stage with curiosity and faith. A window is an explicitly liminal space, where we stand between the inside and outside world of our very own lives. If anything magical is going to happen – this will be the place. I don’t think it really matters what I find when set myself there, in my four foot daylight studio, beside the parking lot and stone retaining wall and trees that daily grow noisier with bird-song. I think what matters is that I keep looking.
Catch all the light you can with a butterfly and put it in your camera and see what happens.
Once the butterflies get in your house – well, they get everywhere. I promise.
Pages from the Butterfly Mysterium for Pammy. She knows why.
It was the gestures she had made unconsciously that pulsated with the power of her life. In their utter stillness, I heard each particular singing its lonely, happy song of an ordinary heart alive with air, caressing blood and time and grace as they came and went. Her palettes embroiled in colors. Her shoes cuddled by the bed. Her used tea bag curled tenderly in an empty yogurt cup, dreaming of just one more sip of hot water. These things re-shaped me. They were all so very true.
It is strange to feel so much more like a buttefly, now that I am older, and this girl has ebbed away. I am sure I look more like a caterpillar every day, all pudgy stripes inching persistently along today’s branch until at last I reach the next leafy snack to munch. But really, it is losing this girl, and whoever she assumed she was, that unfolded my most tender colors and freed them to glide into the breeze. Losing her, though – that was hard.