The Butterfly Explains Tear-Feeding

Jeanne Wagner Click to

wagnerphotoJeanne Wagner is the winner of the 2014 Hayden’s Ferry 500/500 Prize and 2014 Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Award. Her poems appear in Cincinnati Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, River Styx, Poet Lore and American Life in Poetry. She is on the editorial board of California Quarterly. She has two full-length collections, The Zen Piano Mover, 2004 winner of the Stevens Poetry Award, and In the Body of Our Lives, released by Sixteen Rivers press in 2011.

A butterfly was observed drinking
the tears of a crocodile. —from National Geographic

How misleadingly delicious the Latin word
lacrimae sounds,

as if tears were cream we sip through
the straw of our proboscis

as it probes the juicy pond in the corner
of a crocodile’s eye.

As if tears were no more than aperitifs,
cocktails on the veranda,

not this sacrament of salt and sorrow,
elixir and libation,

the mineral tang we crave after the cloy
of too much nectar.

Each salt drop is the distillation of a god-
like beast.

Every sip rich with an intimation of peril:
flick of gnashing teeth,

pernicious periscope eyes, the sudden
spank of tail.

Imagine how it must feel when their bodies
froth the water,

then the post-prandial basking, motionless,
on a bank’s velvet mud.

We who flit through life on painted, sissy
wings know they take

our ministrations as their due, lying fat
and satisfied, while we suck

up their tears, wings preening like a bow
in a young girl’s hair.