American Life in Poetry: Column 164


How often have you wondered what might be going on inside a child's head?
can be so much more free and playful with their imaginations than adults, and
are so good at keeping those flights of fancy secret and mysterious, that even

if we were told what they were thinking we might not be able to make much sense of it.
Here Ellen Bass, of Santa Cruz, California, tells us of one such

Dead Butterfly

For months my daughter carried

a dead monarch in a quart mason jar.

To and from school in her backpack,
to her only friend's house. At the dinner table
it sat like a guest alongside the pot roast.
She took it to bed, propped by her pillow.

Was it the year her brother was born?
Was this her own too-fragile baby

that had lived--so briefly--in its glassed world?

Or the year she refused to go to her father's house?

Was this the holding-her-breath girl she became there?

This plump child in her rolled-down socks
I sometimes wanted to haul back inside me

and carry safe again. What was her fierce
commitment? I never understood.
We just lived with the dead winged thing
as part of her, as part of us,

weightless in its heavy jar.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation
(www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported
by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
copyright (c) 2007 by Ellen Bass and reprinted from "The Human Line,"
2007, by
permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
copyright (c) 2008 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's
author, Ted
Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry
to the
Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.