Lighter than moths with their cargo of soot and chim­ney-sweeper wings, but­ter­flies re­sist litotes, de­mand a richer rhetoric though the voice must be soft, prefer­ably per­fumed, when it speaks of them. Their tor­sos have the slim­ness of a tall, anorexic fly or a mar­tyred wasp stretched on a rack. Some be­lieve they are breath made man­i­fest, the soul’s first choice of soma as it re­turns to the wheel, yet they de­pend for their ex­is­tence on a fat, ugly grub and its dream of flight.

Vul­ner­a­ble and pale, when it emerges from the pu­pal shell—no longer grub, not yet but­ter­fly—it pumps blood into its nascent wings, tightly clasped, and then waits in the sun for the wings to sep­a­rate and dry. Its Latin name should trans­late as lit­tle ap­pa­ra­tus of im­prob­a­bil­ity. Its life span’s so short, in its lex­i­con the phrase for it is and it’s over is the same. You wish like a mos­quito it car­ried a sting; you wish it needed a drop of you to fuel its frailty. What bet­ter use of hu­man blood!

Oh, and you’ve yet to speak of the myr­iad of colours, its en­dear­ing spas­tic flit­ter in the air, or the dain­ti­ness of its six dis­tinct feet that tap on petals and taste—yes, taste—the sweet­ness that trig­gers the un­coil­ing of its tubu­lar tongue. Al­most ob­scene, cer­tainly pri­mal, that long black tongue makes any flower’s knees fall open. You’d like to end here, on the el­e­gance of that cou­pling, but the but­ter­fly’s tongue also feeds on the body’s del­i­ques­cence. A blue, winged cloud of them lifts from the dog rot­ting near a ditch in Palenque, more sin­is­ter than flies be­cause in their feed­ing and in their ris­ing through the pu­trid air they re­main still beau­ti­ful. And to our ears they make no sound.

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