for Beau, in his first year
It’s said in Mexico that monarchs bear the souls
of dead children to heaven, but Nephew, you refused
your taxi, hid instead in the cove where miscarried spirits doze.
Hid like a dropped contact lens.
Like unspoken love, like bats folded in shagbark.
Like cancer. Like fortune. Like frogs from flies.
You hid so well so long, we thought you forgot us.
I wouldn’t have blamed you for choosing
a different planet. The quickest way to heat this one
is human flight, so as I soar to meet you,
first nephew, safely born on your second attempt,
flutter-kicking as you howled free
of your mother’s body, nephew long-dreamt,
know I’m selfish as poison, reckless as time.
Wintering monarchs beard trees in Puebla Màgico
where children sell butterfly trinkets to Americans.
Villagers want to wake the sleeping coal mine;
American tourists disagree, afraid the mine
would disrupt the monarchs, marveling
as those beards disintegrate into wings,
failing to connect migrations: flow of tourism
counterpoint to flow of brown bodies north
through desert, over river, under wall.
What makes a monarch frail?
Nephew, it’s as difficult to unbraid as to braid:
lack of wintering sites or lack of milkweed.
Everywhere, the leeching of livelihoods,
rise of various boredoms: boredom of factory work,
boredom of its absence, boredom of drought,
boredom of flood, the boredom that festers
inside an opioid epidemic: boredom of another man
bluing at the lips in the Kroger bathroom,
startled awake with Narcan to the uncanny
stillness of survival: dazed below fluorescents,
walking again among celery, pears, vitamins,
toothpaste, garbage bags, people—
not so unalike, butterfly and human:
our poisons, our costumes,
travel embedded in our anatomies,
frailty our vessel and our horizon.
In the picture book I’m writing for you, that majestic city,
the Great Barrier Reef, rebuilds itself,
intricate as jewelry, and monarch migrations
dazzle as passenger pigeon flocks once did—
this task my escape from researching bubonic ice,
heat death, the possible finales to industrialization.
Today, I wept and drank coffee that no doubt
was grown to the detriment of rainforest,
harvested by people paid in pennies.
Nephew, this is humanity’s ruin:
our nearsightedness, our love
of comfort and its distractions.
Yet, I will buy you stuffed toys and ice cream.
I will shut up about these sorrows
and teach you to dance badly,
to build sandcastles and marvel
over monarchs—bright, flickering, dizzying
waves of them rippling overhead.
I’ll write them into your future,
loosen you briefly from the grip
of my own despair, see you as you:
wholly yourself, unpredictable as everything.
Your weight against me like starlight,
you wake in the night, crying.
You want your parents, your crib,
steady lullaby of the Pacific—
but you are here with me in Illinois
while your parents dance at a wedding.
Once a friend asked me if I regretted being born.
I said no and he said it will be the same for you—
we’re all the kingdoms we inherit, their riches
as much as their precarity.
Distant but linked—the opioid epidemic
with mass extinction, depression spikes
with urbanization. While partnering cocoon
with coral and milkweed with allegories
may not solve the world’s problems, know
strange thinking is necessary.
Nephew, there are stories besides what’s missing.
This hemmed and seedless world still asks.