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.
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.