Musing on a Female Atlas Moth

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

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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