Carol Hamilton

For Pity's Sake

"A name pins a butterfly down."  William Butler Yeats


How I tried to learn the wildflower names

as we climbed New Mexico and Colorado peaks.

I would chant them on my pack-laden steps.

We would kneel to fill our canteens 

with icy glitter, sun-touched, before we teetered

across logs to pass the rushing streams.

Later, still cold, water pooled in our tin cups,

arrested now from its long dash to the plains. 

At the museum I can see wildflowers all labeled.

Butterflies and moths are stretched out there

with unimaginable variety of design and color. 

They are pinioned, dry and erudite.

It is better in September when the monarchs,

clothed in identical suits, pass through, 

each on its short leg of the journey 

to the forests near Agangueo and Rosario

in Michoacán where the air patters of rain, 

orange and black wisps clouding the sky, 

and the trees writhe with a rough, 

roiling shag bark formed of their folded wings. 

I would like to breathe life into those moments, 

remember more than a glimpse of the past 

or a description of how it felt. 

After the field work, every memorable moment 

must be labeled and stored away

where words take over and wonder 

drifts off on gentle gusts of air.


Reality Check

I remember Sputnik. I was teaching

2nd grade in a suburb of New Haven.

I remember the dog who circled the earth.

We suddenly had to teach science beginning

in kindergarten to catch up

with the Russians. One of my boys

wrote a story of a cider-carrying rocket 

zooming toward the blaze of the sun, 

and the heat-warmed cider drunkened 

the little spaceship into a topsy-turvy ride. 

The young author's mother bragged 

of his story until his father, a professor

of psychology at Yale, analyzed it.

Yuri Gagarin said, "I could have gone

flying through space forever." 

It is all there, we think. Yet imagination

is our only teacher. No one has yet asked

to thrust his hand into the side of a galaxy

to believe in it. I stagger through invisible

time and space but still have not found

a landing field long enough to erase,

at its ending, the risk of crashing 

into whatever is really real. Even so,

at last it is necessary to believe,

or should I say "imagine,"

that some endings really end.

Carol Hamilton has recent and upcoming publications in Louisiana Literature, Hawaii Pacific Review, Southwest American Literature, Birmingham Literary Journal, San Pedro River Review, Dryland, Valparaiso Poetry Review, U.S.1 Worksheet, Gingerbread House, Ceseara, Poem, Brushfire, Burningwood Literary Review, Abbey, The Sea Letter, Tiny Spoon, Main Street Rag, Angel City Review, Poetry Superhighway and others. A former Poet Laureate of Oklahoma, she has published 17 books: children's novels, legends and poetry. 

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