The butterflies flitted throughout the conservatory like fleeting glimpses of perfection and fragility. Each time one of the tourists tried to hone their sights to just one, it leapt in a current of warm air and avoided the confrontation. The tourists drank the beautiful sights of the garden, heard the slapping of water over eroding stones, smelled the sugary-thick air and tried vigorously to capture one of these ever-flapping butterflies on film, to save in their photo albums (stored in the attic).
A small boy walked in the garden too, feeling differing feelings, seeing the same things. His hands, moist, clutched a camera like the crumbling edifice of a building. He attempted to capture, behind the flapping wings, a tangible truth, an unconventional beauty. A pedestal stood rusting in a corner of the conservatory. Resting on it, a neat array of orange slices provided the butterflies with a treat if they desired. That day, the boy noted, the oranges seemed unappealing to all but one—all of the butterflies found better food, the pedestals basked in sunlight, and all of the tourists followed. Sitting atop the oranges, a butterfly with half a wing seemed to call its attention to the boy and nobody else. Sweat clung to his face, and small particles dripped like warm rain to the floor as he pressed his finger to the camera—he hovered above the scene like aircraft. The butterfly fluttered its wing in alarm, trying to move, but couldn’t. So there it stayed, trapped in saccharine nectar, burnt into an image of light.
This post is dedicated to the memories of home that appear when you need them most. Here is a selection of photos from my hometown, Centerville, Iowa. Where I spent the better part of 20 years growing and learning, only to leave and grow and learn it all over again.
Legs were connected like tree roots, jutting in and out from the snowfall of bedsheets. Pale and dark roots that had come from two trees turned one. One dreamed of the other, his hands subconsciously tightening their grip around Rhys’s bicep, “a little on the small side, but I make up for that elsewhere,” he used to joke like some kid on the playground who had learned about sex too early from his older siblings. Aron would look up at him and retort with something like “where? Not up here, clearly,” tapping his head. “Well, I do have more than one head, you know.” The jokes would continue until they were breathing each other’s air, sharing that casual, almost lazy sex that had been expected of them their first summer in Pasadena, with the heat index doing their poorly constructed AC unit no favors; it wheezed in apparent rheum, which masked their lovemaking in a veil of machinery and the smell of ruined industry.
I’ve just thrown some spare euros into the receptacle at the mouth of the dock and am waiting impatiently, cleaning off the bottom of my shoe (gum) against a concrete slab that’s holding the ticket dispenser to the earth. But now I’m wondering if it’s even stuck, if I’m even grounded, or the city, for that matter—if we’re all just hovering on top of some idea, some clever thought by refugees. A floating city.
Venice is hot on the Canal Grande, a tiring hot, a boiling tar slick—even the ticket peels out of the dispenser in a slow, calculated way; I can almost hear the machine wheezing. Boats are passing on the canal as my attempt at nonchalance is growing thinner and thinner in the heat. Their dull motors shoot up a light spray of mist that evaporates before it reaches me from my perch, now at the edge of the dock, inside the roofed waterbus stop. The ticket is in my hand, held loosely, as if to show unimportance. I hadn’t once been checked on the vaporetto for any sort of papers, but there are signs posted everywhere in a translatable, warning-sign red: being caught without a ticket would result in a €47 fine. Probably best to play it safe. You didn’t want to be that guy—the guy who can’t even understand the bigliettaio and his syrupy-slow Italian. Just be silent, look straight ahead, and be happy you can pass for a real Italian with your golden skin tone. That’s all it takes.
a crossword puzzle undoes itself
mirrors look back and
judge with the sharpness
of unpolished rock
she looks onward
and dries her hair
with the newspaper, expelling
facts onto the bleeding page
a glass of tea
and its ice are oases
on the tongue
and a slow honeycomb drips
tufts of amber rum
she advances slowly, thrusting her
wigwam hips and pushing up her pin-
up breasts in the heat
an opera cascades from a window
we roll exposed, leaving behind
silver blades, like knives
lifting our moans from the grass
littering and deflowering
the suburban air
the summer monster advances
toward the bike-riding children
and tears the innocence from
their freckled limbs in delight