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Wednesday, August 03, 2022


by Dick Altman

Flying jewels I thought they were
as a child.  To entice one onto
a finger, to bring it up to the nose,
as the black-bordered tangerine
wings slowly opened and closed—
could a little boy be any more
Thirty-five years later, on a lake
in upstate New York, I rediscover
Monarchs—beguiling not of fragile
sweetness, but ferocity almost beyond
the syntax of belief.  I’m transfixed
at how they tilt against late summer’s
gusting head winds.  As if they had
no choice.  As if wings were oars—
as if boats launched from shore
into raging tidal seas—as they press
forward, only to be repulsed—again
and again.  As they fight, tirelessly,
to stay aloft above the aqueous grave
awaiting any that falter.  Fight as if
drowning in air, frantic to surface
in northern Mexico’s Mil Cumbres hills. 
Frantic to give birth, after voyaging
twenty-five hundred hectoring miles,
until they all but drop.
The vision of embattled, desperate
fleets returns, when I drive into
the Cumbres, dumbstruck by forests
black and orange, pulsing, folding,
unfolding, eager after winter to create
a new generation. One destined
to traverse, like their forbears, lake’s
grueling flyways north to Canada.
I pee as a kid on a log bordering
our cabin’s path to the water.  What
of my essences lures Monarchs
to the spot in droves, I’ll never know. 
Part of me evolves into part of them.
An entwining of winged and bipedal,
one bound to earth, the other to air—
a lifetime ago, and I behold it yet
with a child’s wonder un-frayed.
Days of Monarchs’ madness pass.
The lake’s autumnal transit
a fragment of memory.  Gales black
and orange out-fought, out-flew
the winds.  When Milkweed,
their caterpillars’ favorite food,
their only food, succumbs to man’s
punishment of earth, winged courage
proves no match.  But when
imagination wanders back to those
bejeweled days on the water, I conjure
soaring, gliding gems of fortitude. 
Pray for the day skies confetti again
with their dancing fury. Odysseus
takes twenty years to sail home.
Monarchs, but a few months.

Dick Altman writes in the high, thin, magical air of Santa Fe, NM, where,at 7,000 feet, reality and imagination often blur. He is published in Santa Fe Literary Review, American Journal of Poetry, riverSedge, Fredericksburg Literary Review, Foliate Oak, Blue Line, THE Magazine, Humana obscura, The Offbeat, Haunted Waters Press, Split Rock Review, The RavensPerch, Beyond Words, The New Verse News, Sky Island Journal, and others here and abroad. A poetry winner of Santa Fe New Mexican’s annual literary competition, he has in progress two collections of some 100 published poems. His work has been selected for the forthcoming first volume of The New Mexico Anthology of Poetry to be published by the New Mexico Museum Press.