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.