The Empty Casing
Imagine this: if you have planters
of parsley or dill growing outside
in a sunny spot, odds are good
that you have tossed butterfly eggs
onto your pasta with the garnish
or mixed them into your salad.
Have you ever seen the egg
of a butterfly? Before caterpillar,
before chrysalis. The miniscule sphere,
a perfect glassy orb deposited
by swallowtail or monarch or fritillary,
and perched so delicately on a leaf
or the whisper-thin stem
of your garden herbs.
I saw my first last summer.
I watched as the brilliant swallowtail—
she visited daily for a spell—found
my bed of parsley. I searched
for a week, leaf by leaf until
I spotted it: one perfect egg.
How small, how fragile.
How large my hands,
my garden shears—the egg stood
such small chance against a quick
snip at mealtime. Small chance
against hot sun that can wither
a wispy herb into the parched earth
over a few dry days of drought.
It is truly a wonder
we have any butterflies at all.
But my patio egg, it defied the odds—
it hatched under my protective gaze,
grew fat off the parsley I did not eat,
spun a home around itself.
I watched and waited as it grew strong
Then one morning I found
the empty dry casing still stuck
to the side of my clay planter.
The butterfly—it was gone, flown
away into its new life.
Note to Self: Two Kindnesses, or One
Do you get as frustrated as I
that some lessons do not come easy
or fast, that there are things we know
deep in our bodies, that we have learned
through trial and error and error
and error, and yet
we must learn them again?
I think you know,
this feeling of carving
out space, of creating
sanctuary within your home,
your body, of finding
the necessary beauty of silence,
but then inviting the noise to rush in
when a friend calls for help.
I struggle here, to find
the line between kindnesses—
between being a good human
and being good to myself. And truly,
why do those things feel at odds,
and how might I lift my eyes
upon myself if I held a line
here, between you and me?
But what I really want to say
is that I think our needs
are mutual and that maybe
this note to self is a reminder
to ask for help in claiming
I think I had the whole thing
Again, again, again.
I thought it was about me,
that I was the end point
of these battles
through chemo and vertigo,
that three decades of knowledge
were meant to save
Turns out, my dry run
held a different purpose:
when first one daughter,
and then a second,
fell sick and sicker,
I should have been ready.
The dreamy images flashed
in quick succession, on and on,
recognizable but too fast
for reading the endless
pages of fine print.
Awake, but not, I thought
I’d caught myself dreaming,
was sure that this medical flipbook
must be rapid eye movement.
Drifting back to sleep, I told myself,
I must remember this.
My next thought, upon waking—
do other people see medical bills,
one after the other, after the other,
inscribed within their eyes
while they try to sleep,
Do they dream of static images,
of text and debts?
While the numbers
and the fine print spread
my daughter, still sick
in her bed, dreamed
in fear and senses,
of waking to the pressure
of water trapped within her walls,
of the sheetrock growing soft
and moist to the touch,
of hazy thoughts that she could rest
just a few minutes longer, that she had
more time to act, more time
before the liquid pocket burst
like a balloon all over her bed,
soaking her, as she recounted later,
in dirty wall water.
But she was wrong, time was short,
and the walls in her dream gave way
before she could get out of bed.
And the documents in mine kept scrolling.
In Anticipation of an Elegy
I began mourning
my trees last year
with the first news
of the tall building
to rise behind my yard.
for our yards, and won
a stay of execution—
I mean, a rejection
by the planning board
But it was only a matter
of time, and they did not
that trees and plants
mean life in this city,
sustain birds and other
creatures but also humans
who cannot fly from yard
to yard in search of sun
but must make do
with the patch of earth
in our small backyards
and beg the planners
to vote as if our lives
depend on the trees.
Ann E. Wallace is Poet Laureate of Jersey City, New Jersey. Her collection Days of Grace and Silence: A Chronicle of COVID’s Long Haul is forthcoming from Kelsay Books in 2024. She is author of Counting by Sevens (Main Street Rag) and has published work in Huffington Post, Wordgathering, Gyroscope Review, Snapdragon and many other journals. You can follow her online at AnnWallacePhD.com and on Instagram @annwallace409.