Martin Willitts Jr
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Larvae on Black Cherry Tree
Survival is always precarious. Every part is connected,
or else parts disconnect and multiple life forms fail.
Many things can go wrong in life, and they often do.
A male tiger swallowtail with
orange and blue spots near the tail,
traces an indirect route to a milkweed near the vacant road.
Survival depends on feasting and hosting.
Female tiger swallowtails will lay their eggs
on Black Cherry leaves, because
it’s the furthest place from their natural enemies.
Survival depends on good choices.
When the eggs hatch, the larva looks like bird droppings.
This camouflage will protect them more than prayer,
more than luck, more than distance and closeness
to their enemies. Survival depends on camouflage.
As the caterpillars grow, they turn green as a Black Cherry leaf,
responding to that deep calling of survival,
a song in their green bloodstream.
There is a resting stage when transformation begins
in greenish-brown chrysalis, small as a thumb.
And if the weather is unexpectedly cold,
the butterfly might wait for spring to emerge.
Those bright eyespots on their wings are not true eyes.
They are illusions to scare their predators
or make the predators to attack the wrong part.
Survival depends on patience.
Survival is always adaptability.
The Easter Tiger Swallowtail can lose a wing
and still survive.
It is we who are the fragile ones.
What will you do to survive?
Will it be the indirect way?
Will you know for certain the best choices?
Survival is always precarious.
There is a dead bird in the woods.
From inside the carcass, a black beetle emerges
with red markings on the forewings.
I forget how we are all hosts to something else.
We all feed, taking in the spirit of the dead
so we can survive; then something feasts on us.
Some say, this is ghoulish; but this is life
and death, the recycling of existence.
And it is messy; it is never neat and pretty.
Some say, where is God in all this?
We want to bury truth, pretend there is more
than larva and decomposition.
We want to compose a reality in stanzas
of lyric beauty, worthy of stature and dignity.
It is impossible. It’s not how things work.
They fail to see that this is God’s grand design.
And questioning is part of what we do best.
But the dying part — is not what we do best.
It began with human foolishness.
It began with land erosion.
It began when they cut all the trees.
It rained mountains of rain, washing loose topsoil
like a carpenter uses a plane to smooth surfaces, slices
thin as breath. In the soaked-drenched land, trees unmoored,
sliding down rivulets like strange schooners.
The land was disconnected.
The rain was unable to make up its mind where to go,
what to obliterate. Birds were so saturated,
they cannot lift their blue wings.
Water rushed off their tips like from roof drains.
The deluged was biblical in proportions.
The rain was the size of carpenter ants.
Muds slid boulders like they were a child’s marbles.
Clouds rumbled like an old man clearing his throat.
The land moved like a tsunami,
eradicating every object in its path
like it has been offended by the mere sight.
The behemoth of mud, rain, trees, swallowed houses.
The landslide ran out of kinetic energy,
leaving sludge like a giant snail’s slime.
Now the assessment begins. Now chainsaws
cut into the truth of what was gone, what remains.
Now there is calling out for the separated and lost.
Now silence claims us
with not one reassuring word to say.
Now there is gathering of brokenness,
the fleshing out of grief into reams of anguish
stretching across continents.
Martin Willitts Jr is a Quaker, organic gardener, and retired Librarian. He is interested in the connection of every molecule. He has 10 full length collections including national ecological contest winner Searching For What Is Not There, and 28 chapbooks. His forthcoming poetry books include How to Be Silent (FutureCycle Press) and God Is Not Amused With What You Are Doing In Her Name (Aldrich Press). He won the International Dylan Thomas Poetry Award for the centennial. His poems have appeared in About Place, Comstock Review, Blue Fifth, Centrifugal Eye, Stone Canoe, Red Poppy Review, Kentucky Review, Turtle Island Quarterly, and others.