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.