Poem 1 by Anne Cluysenaar

"During my very first walk into the forest at Batchian, I had seen sitting on a leaf out of reach, an immense butterfly..."
                                                                                                                   - Alfred Russel Wallace, The Malay Archipelago

At The Natural History Museum, London
- for George Beccaloni, entomologist

Pinned on the tray,
     his wings outspread,
          still and dry:
               Ornithoptera croesus croesus.

'This may be the actual one'
     you tell me, angling the glass -
          the sooty texture
               of immense wings
                    dazzles by its darkness.

Somewhere on the body
     forensic signs, maybe,
          of Wallace's careful fingers
as he drew this butterfly, living,
     from the net? And his own heart
          sent blood rushing,
               so that "I felt
much more like fainting
     than I have done
          when in apprehension
               of immediate death" -
all day afterwards
     ah, how his head ached!

To that Mussaenda shrub
     with its white bracts and long
          yellow orange-eyed blooms,
               lured by scent and sight,
                    croesus will come for nectar.

Closed up, he makes just a patch
     of leaf-thrown shadow,
          or an oblong black-veined leaf,
               yellow-green in sunlight.
Open, the bright petals
     on his outspread wings -
          orange sprays, yellow dots,
               amid yellow and white and orange -
hold his body safe
     in a bill-distracting corolla.

As I catch a trace
     of Wallace's fine-tipped quill
          on the tiny round of the label
and the dull glint of the pin
     through that wizened thorax,
I think of a mind's movement
     stilled between pages,
          as dead, as rich -

ready in another mind
     to fly, and settle.

 Male Ornithoptera croesus croesus collected by Wallace

Ornithoptera croesus croesus collected by Wallace in 1859. This is probably the first male he caught: The one which gave him such a headache! Copyright The Natural History Museum, London.

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