an Aotearoa poetry journal | ISSN 2744-3248

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Kahukura — Red Admirals

Mother, together we fed the caterpillars plump
little fuzzy bodies ballooning
their black swivel-heads heedlessly munching
along stinging nettle stems
safe from waspy predation.

You grew ongaonga for them
enough to kill a man
fenced off by the compost with chicken wire,
harvested it with tongs, wearing pink rubber gloves.

We kept the caterpillars in a yellow-lidded container
but when it was time they went AWOL
around the lounge, attaching themselves
upside down to bookshelves
metamorphosing next to Ovid and Kafka.

Hatching, they stained the wood with rusty drops
and sat on their chrysalises, wing-pumping
before fluttering off to tap against the windows,
begging for release.

The sickly ones
were fed sugar water from a pink dish sponge
their long tongues unfurling tentatively.

I named them things like Tiger-Rose and
Love-Heart Dew-Drop before inevitably
they had to be buried
wrapped in white paper towels
next to the washing line; butterfly graveyard.

When we set the survivors free
they rose redly into the blue,
where there isn’t a word
for thank you.