I met a naturalist who used to love butterflies.
He dreamed of a caterpillar called
the “Maculate Dancer” — maculate, as in, having spots, as in,
what immaculate isn’t. It lived in the chilly hills
of Coorgh, India, hadn’t been spotted since the ‘30s.
Two years ago he amassed a team, peered under leaves
for weeks. He found a caterpillar that
matched the only known depiction (in an old Brit book).
He brought news to his Facebook group
titled “Butterflies,” peers enraptured by the find.
Caterpillar came home, where it ate with vigor,
a real zest for life—and entered the pupa state.
It started wrapping itself up. Day-by-day
in “Butterflies,” buzz built as the chrysalis did.
In 9 days, as predicted, the pupa opened. Out came
a black cloud of wasps, fat and happy,
nourished by the caterpillar they’d been living in.
The naturalist wiped his Facebook, cut all contact
with lepidopterists, left research and took
a job in a remote place, where I found him.
I knew a driver who wanted me to sit up front.
The rideshare bosses were gnawing every
last penny out of their bones, he said. He said the riders,
too, had learned how to make him small:
Bad reviews for too slowly, too recklessly,
for selecting a bad conversation topic.
Once he was so unwell he pulled over three times during the ride to vomit.
Rider left feedback (“car was smelly”).
Once in a bad winter a rider asked him to
blast the AC for a vision quest out to Jersey,
gave so many erratic directions he opted to drop her off
“in the middle of nowhere,” I didn’t ask to clarify.
Then the driver told me my name was a
special word in his language, with a special meaning,
which was “the sweetest, innermost part of the melon.”
Feeling warm I rolled this fact over inside for days.
In years since, I have found no evidence that the
“Maculate Dancer” ever existed.
I have not seen rumors, nor myth-making,
nor speculative illustrations. Nor evidence
that my name means the sweetest, innermost part of the melon
in his or any living language. Some dear to me have
even pointed out that the innermost part of most melons
is dull seedy pulp.
I do not know what these men spoke of,
but I know what I was told. What’s inside
a melon and a butterfly is despair.