Barbara Helfgott Hyett


Monarch in a Jar


Light made seeing easy—
the sun falling under.

I could tell by two spots
that it was a male. All night

I had to calm him, to keep
his wings from tearing. I lay

in my bed beside him,
in his jar.

He hung quite still.
I could hear his breath

resting. His wings,
drying geometries.

By dawn I could see
pink tips, shades of stasis,

a double undoing.
Something new.



Last Tuesday I watched the caterpillar
climb the smooth glass wall

of the jar, quickly
choose its spot

on the branch
I had stood in there,

and he hung
onto it attached

by the very top of his head,
tail curled up into

a capital letter, J. All
of it clinging by gossamer,

matter of another kind.
No more to be striped hunger.



What happened next
was the shaking. It trembled

horribly, convulsing
the curvy swoon, shocks

of celadon winding,
until it was not

itself anymore, but jade.
It shined, that stone. It pouted

wetly. And seemed hard, though
I didn’t touch it.

Chrysalis, the first
puzzle piece,

a signal flag bound
to the self

it couldn’t know.
And within itself, an assistant-

self, throat ringed
with beads of gold.

I feared it would fall off
the branch, so heavy it seemed.

Still, it held, shook there a while
in the work of its living.



I stayed up all night
with it as it turned blue.

Darker blue.  Darker, into
the sheer air of transparency.

Hints of shape pressed
and folded like a lavendered

bed sheet. Something
in there was moving

the way something moves,
or not, in every political direction.

Then I heard
a blue kind of softening.

Years of nights I used
to breathe beside

the faces
of my children.  I was

nothing but lullaby then.
I stared and I stared, when

suddenly, I could see inside
a host of miniature, Origami

stained-glass wings I almost
took for the face of God!



Noon, precisely. I carried the jar outside,
across the street to a neighbor’s

garden, those asters billowing.
I took off the screen I’d devised

roughly as a lid, to set him
flying, but he didn’t go.

I coaxed him with my voice.
He climbed out over the lip

of the jar (I couldn’t believe this)!
out onto the back of my hand,

and farther, onto my wrist,
onto my forearm where he stopped,

every weightless speck of him
working the map of his celestial

mind, routing himself,
ingeniously, due south.



I didn’t really see him go,
maybe a spark in the trees

behind my house. Green fact,
blue, jubilant world,

let me too be flung out, wholly
new, into that selfsame lucky span.



Published in The Maine Review