For All the Broken Butterflies
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow. – Pavel Friedman, “The Butterfly”, June 4 1942
You are old now, torn by air and the too-sharp petals of every false flower
in the world. Nothing about you will stay any longer than your paths
through the wet grass. Hopeful to the final probe, you prickle your tongue
with sweet beads. Cobalt and ochre dust sifts through the morning’s thorns.
God writes your kind on parchment – haiku of a single hour. Early sun
burns through your dénouement. Foils turn to deltas of dry rivers.
Yet you fear no evil in the vacuum beyond this last garden.
Since you cannot hold memories, I would offer a few for each
of your journeys, my friend.
A woman grips her own innocence – round fruit on an open palm. Raised
hands, juice between fingers, sticky lure you must never try to drink.
Shake free: clouds and walls, slam of a gate below you.
Taste now Ishmael’s wrist. Lick the salt desert from his skin.
Feel Hagar’s laugh, its bubble like water rising. Her son opens a spring
with his heel, bends toward the wet stones. Tremble your heart
against his pulse, then blow away.
Settle as a leopard on Khadija’s robe, companion to the slow
sandglass of her breath. Your veins are stitching gold and shadow.
Habibti, she murmurs – My own beloved. But you have such a tiny voice,
not made for love. Eyes on your wings open to watch her leave.
Their bruised edges she has chosen not to see.
Rest on a Roman’s plume, bring a kiss from his daughter. He cannot kill
you this time – evader of flags, hooves, spears, fire. You, the stroke
of light beyond an old man’s window. First visitor at a rolled tomb,
even before the women.
Wisp caught on a barb at Terezin. A small boy points and cries,
Mameh … look! He calls you angel, pinned on unforgiving wire.
Not even the bravest of all malachim will fly to this place,
his mother answers.
When death arrives at last, it always belongs to someone else.
So it is best not to remember everything I tell you.
Brenda Levy Tate (c) 2013
~ posted in an exhibit at Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Western Branch ~
*The community of Terezin was the location of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where 12,000 children were kept prisoner during the Holocaust. 90% did not survive. Pavel Friedman, from whose poem I quote at the beginning, was one of those children. He later died at Auschwitz.