Morpho Menelaus

I don’t understand how a thing can have
no color at all, yet we see color.
How it is, instead, prismatic refraction,
these wings vivid as jewels,
but it’s all an engine designed
for artifice. What weird physics
made beauty sprout from absence?

Some species, I’m told, can only
be identified by a close study
of their minute genitalia. It’s no wonder
entomologists are such a mess.

Shown a case of butterflies pinned
to cotton, lined up and gilded with Latin,
I could stare for hours.
These delicate flakes of pearlized rainbow
swivel toward such captured dazzle.
The air is peeled back, the mirror fractured.

Pea Island National Wildlife Seashore, North Carolina

Scrappy bushes and the reeds called sea oats
cling to the dunes that line the road.
The dunes, rising and falling, cling to the
shore we glimpse in flashes through troughs of sand.
Waves cresting white cling to the horizon
where clouds layer like stacks of gray plates.
Salt clings to wind that runs up the dunes
where two laughing gulls paste their silhouettes
against the slate clouds, before waves opening
like the pages of a book, among the wind’s
diacritical marks parsing the run-on sentence
of the dunes. The music of the dunes,
like a logbook fading to illegibility
or a ledger slipping out of its accounts,
shifts daily to echo the frangible shore,
whose sea oats, through all evidence
of storms, erosion, tides, all that is periodic
and impermanent, just barely cling.

Kim Roberts is a 2023 Poet-in-Residence at the Arts Club of Washington. She is the author of A Literary Guide to Washington, DC and editor of two anthologies of DC poets, most recently By Broad Potomac’s Shore, selected by the Centers for the Book for the 2021 Route 1 Reads program. Her sixth book of poems, Corona/Crown, a cross-disciplinary collaboration with photographer Robert Revere, will be released in Fall 2023 by WordTech Editions.