By: Alison Hawthorne Deming
A caterpillar spits out a sac of silk
where it lies entombed while its genes
switch on and off like lights
on a pinball machine. If every cell
contains the entire sequence
constituting what or who the creature is,
how does a certain clump of cells
know to line up side by side
and turn into wings, then shut off
while another clump blinks on
spilling pigment into the creature’s
emerald green blood, waves of color
flowing into wingscales—black, orange,
white—each zone receptive only to the color
it’s destined to become. And then
the wings unfold, still from their making,
and for a dangerous moment hold steady
while they stiffen and dry, the double-
layered wing a protolanguage—one side
warning enemies, the other luring mates.
And then pattern-making cells go dormant,
and the butterfly has mastered flight.
Poet Alison Hawthorne Deming was born and grew up in Connecticut. She is the author of Science and Other Poems (LSU Press, 1994), winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets; The Monarchs: A Poem Sequence (LSU, 1997), Genius Loci (Penguin Poets, 2005), and Rope (Penguin Poets, 2009).Former Director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center (1990-2002), she currently is Professor and Director of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, where she is also affiliated with the Institute of the Environment, and a member of the Board of Directors of Orion magazine and terrain.org. She lives in Tucson, Arizona and Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada, and has observed monarchs throughout their tri-national range in the Americas.