Tuesday, March 08, 2011

`Keen to the Most Distant Perfumes'

My first Lepidoptera of the season was a hardy little pale-gray moth on the pale-gray concrete wall beside the school playground. The day was cold but windless, and the sun had shone long enough by early afternoon to warm the wall. His wings were opened as though awaiting the collector’s pins. Instead, I gently ran the tip of my index finger down his thorax and abdomen, and he seemed to ripple in place like a cat, and then flew away in that busy, inelegant way moths have. On my finger he left a smudge of gray dust like the ash of a cigarette.

At home, as though he had anticipated my lepidopteral discovery, I found a link from Dave Lull to Butterflies and Moths of North America, a database operated, in part, by the U.S. Geological Survey, of species information, photographs and other things of interest to aurelians. Also just arrived was my copy, at last, of Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place by Eric Ormsby, which prompted me to remember his “Moths at Nightfall” (Time's Covenant, 2007). Ormsby was born and raised in Georgia, and in the final lines of the poem he remembers moths landing on his grandmother’s screen door:

“Their madras wings, graced
With a dusty haze of pollen,
Pulsed slowly upon the screen
All night. And their stark
Delicacy of fringed and pluming
Antennae, keen to the most
Distant perfumes, enthralled
And repelled: they curved like white
Ferns banished from the daylight,
Or sometimes, as we watched them,
Their feathery antennae furled outward
And seemed to tremble with attention,
Vivid against the darkened yard beyond.”

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