“Instead of You” by Stephen Dunn

I place a dead butterfly on the page,
this is called starting
with an image from real life.

It is gold and black
and, as if in some embalmer’s dream,
a dusting of talc on its wings.
I have plans
for these wings. I will not let them
slip through my hands.
And if anyone is worried about how
the butterfly died, I’ll tell them
my cat swatted it out of the air,
I just picked it up
and brought it to this page
with a notion of breathing
a different life into it. And I confess:
the cat’s gesture was more innocent than mine.

The wings suggest nothing I want,
they are so lovely
I simply like the way they distract,
how my eye turns away from the living-
room, and the mind spins
into the silliness of spring.
I don’t want much.
Just for certain private places
to remain open to me, that’s all.
But this is no time to get ethereal.
Already, in a far corner of the page,
something dark is tempting me
to pull it into the poem. One tug
and it’s a bat
trapped in sunlight, rabid with fear.

There’s no way to keep the ugliness out,
ever. Drops of blood
beautiful, say, on the snow,
always lead to a wound.
Can this still turn out to be a love poem?
Can I still pull you from the wreckage
and kiss your bruises, so black and gold?
Is it too late to introduce you
who were always here, the watermark,
the poem’s secret?
From the start all I wanted to explain
was how things go wrong,
how the heart’s an empty place
until it is filled,

and how the darkness is forever waiting
for its chance.
If I have failed, know that I was trying
to get to you in my own way,
know that my cat never swatted a butterfly,
it was I who invented and killed it,
something to talk about
instead of you.

One thought on ““Instead of You” by Stephen Dunn

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s