The Butterfly Portrait

audio: The Butterfly Portrait
audio of Robert Schultz's poem, The Butterfly Portrait

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Robert Schultz

The Butterfly Portrait


      In the portrait, his favorite, Whitman
      in slouch hat, cardigan, beard,
      regards a butterfly perched on his finger,

      Spring, ’77, in Curtis Taylor’s lens.
      Yes, it was real, he told a friend. I’ve always
      had the knack of attracting critters.

      It was not. The cardboard prop
      was fastened in place with wire.
      Later the poet, chair-bound in Camden,

      let his papers fall like leaves around him.
      (As Archie said, autumn trees
      “stand in pools of themselves.”)

      Whitman in his rocker left piles unstacked
      in natural disorder and told a visitor,
      What I need comes to hand.

      But he kept his paper butterfly near,
      packed in a box—chrysalis or coffin—
      for others to find:

      I laid in my store in advance;
      I considered long and seriously of you
      before you were born.

      Photographer’s prop and poet’s trope,
      it’s a little book—two leaves,
      four pages—painted on the bottom

      and printed on top with an Easter verse:
      The first begotten of the Dead
      For us He rose, our Glorious Head. . . .

      “The poet nothing affirmeth, and therefore
      never lieth.”But he lied and affirmed:
      The critter was paper, and paper

      lives—who touches this, touches a man.
      And the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
      that nectars a lily, yellow and black

      in my garden this morning, emerged
      and clung to its cracked tomb
      just days ago, pumping its wings,

      readying for flight, its colors stiffening.