— Dorianne Laux
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Seventh-Grade Science Project
I ran in a field of wildflowers,
waving a butterfly net, three
yards of gauzy fabric stitched
to the looped rim of a hanger
stapled to a broom handle.
By summertime my father
had already left with his
beautiful mistress. Mother
stayed inside and loafed, said
she could not watch my tiny
murders. The field held lemon
lilies, daylilies aflame in orange
and red, buttercups, purple
clover, and wild roses with
thorns that cut my arms.
I caught a black swallowtail,
monarch, fritillary and mourning
cloak, a painted lady. I learned
how to sneak up on a butterfly,
its long tubular tongue uncoiled
inside a flower, and pinch the
folded wings between my thumb
and index finger. I dropped each
hostage onto a wad of Clorox-
soaked cotton inside the kill jar.
I observed the flutter of wings,
the wiggling thorax, and when
the wiggling stopped, I placed
the butterfly on a felt mounting
board. I stuck a straight pin
precisely into the center
of the thorax and eased
the wings apart. Broken
wings or missing antennae
would lose points. I prepared a
data label for each butterfly—name,
date of capture, location—then slid
the bodies inside a shadow box.
The pin-pricked fingers, wasp
stings, and blood on my arms
were what I paid for my first
A in science. All that summer
I ran like something wild and left
my multi-colored fingerprints
on everything I touched.
—first published in Harvard Review
—featured on Poetry Daily 8.1.08
“How Is a Shell Like Regret?”
For years you believe the ocean’s inside the shell,
swear you hear the water’s swoosh and moan,
as if the shell remembers,
until some scientific killjoy explains
the ear’s construction, how enclosure and compression
create an echo chamber within your head.
The sound you hear—pulsation of your blood, he says.
Years later that too is proven wrong. Not water, not blood,
but ambient noise, wavelengths, a mix of frequencies,
exciting the conch’s resonant air.
The first shell floats in a salty pool at your feet,
squirmy sea snail long gone, house vacated.
Small fish squiggle in and out.
Every wish you ever wished upon a star,
every miracle you prayed hard for,
every time you went down on your knees and begged God,
every dream that didn’t come true,
each huckster, pettifogger, every trickster
and flimflam artist who ever sucked you in.
All illusion of ocean.
Inside that shell, the sound of regret, relentless as any ocean.
It pounds the shore, rises and falls, surges and pulls,
turns over, slides back out again, and keeps on coming.
Heart-shaped, the conch rests in your hand,
hard to fingernail’s tap and touch,
shatters if dropped.
Pink at the lip, pearlescent, like skin burned and scarred.
You gather one, another and another, collect them
on windowsills until the house is full.
Sometimes at night you hear a chorus of them singing
through the hard shell of your grief, singing its own song,
so bitter and so sweet.
—first published in Valparaiso Poetry Review
—rpt. Alhambra Poetry Calendar 2010