Poetry: Migration Elegy by Emily Lawson
Emily Lawson cradles tender her subject in “Migration Elegy”—the frail tigerskinned butterflies, their makeshift “flaming cathedral.” Eco-poetry at its most human and delicate: her words become fresh-cut flowers left behind.
Among the fluttering leaves, I see one flare—my first in years.
I step out to meet the wanderer, glimpse its signature black-veined hindwings.
The tiny flying carpet of tigerskin. It’s unseasonal—it will ice, lacquer over
or starve for absent dame’s rockets, coneflowers, other weedy confections.
In girlhood, I swooped the fields by the playground alone
with my makeshift net—a tunnel of gauze knit between sticks.
On my little clipboard, I catalogued what I caught:
Yellow, White, Monarch—always too many to track.
During my lifetime, over half Earth’s mass of insects vanished:
more than the human weight on the world.
And of Western Monarchs, ninety-nine percent. So, most. They die with roadside milkweed,
the only place to lay the single green or cream-colored egg, minute, beneath the velvet leaf
on the mass journey south. Among our last mysteries: this serial migration.
That it happens at all. The Theory of the Inherited Map, no use. Still,
they’ve always descended into those valleys, odd as black magic,
blanketing the sacred firs in their ardor, fire-spearing the blotted, spangled sky.
Once, a flaming cathedral, enormous as a city. Cell dust shimmered down
like radium. Now, a miniature temple of loss—
The single acre’s burning edges
If this is my last sighting, let me recall how it flashed here,
splicing the light, faltering,
beating skyward again.
Emily Lawson is a Poe/Faulkner Fellow in poetry in the University of Virginia’s MFA program. There, she teaches poetry and serves as editor for Meridian. Her poems and lyric essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Sixth Finch, Indiana Review, Waxwing, THRUSH, About Place, and DIAGRAM. She is the winner of the 2019 Indiana Review 1/2 K Prize.