She hangs from the skeleton of a cholla, placed in that exact spot by her keeper just three days ago. By day she hangs unmoving except for her wings eight inches of captive beauty which swell ever so slightly up and down, maybe in breathing maybe in breeze that my skin does not catch. Born in the mountains of China, fattened by the caterpillar who birthed her in cocoon in captivity here at the Butterfly and Orchid Pavillion in Tucson’s Botanical Gardens, forced forever into silence by a mouth sealed closed before birth, she will not live out her week, a natural victim of enforced starvation. She will search each night for a mate, kept out of knowing that her keepers continually deny males entrance to the house. She will return to the same hold to sit, to preserve strength. Does she know four of her kind are coupled around her, that not one is male? Does she care where she was born, that she is not native, that no expense was spared to bring her here that her history will end with her? Does her pen shaped body wish for time to write her story? Does she sense the flutters of the butterflies, the neon navy Blue Morphos, the blind-eyed Giant Owls, Ruby Spotted Swallowtails, and Yellow-striped Postman through her eyes large, round, and seemingly always open under flaming orange antennae that lash no protection? Does she know they are granted mates, can lay eggs, sip from fermenting oranges layered on four glass flowers scattered among the orchids, hibiscus, and bromeliads under piped-in birdsong meant to mimic her homeland? They say she knows her wings are edged in cobras that when angry or afraid, she will hover the ground writhe and flap her wings to scare away her predators. But does she know the presence of people, their cameras focused on her, my nose just inches from her? Does she know she is safer here than anywhere, safe enough to drill her story into the floor, to take flight one more time through the faked forest before she is found a bit dried up and a bit cracked by her keeper who will simply replace her with another. Does she know she can trust me to pen her story?
Nancy Himel was a retired English teacher living in Tucson, Arizona. Her work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Verse-Virtual, Haiku Universe, Amethyst Review, and One by Jacar Press. She loved owls and angels.
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