I used to believe that the North American viceroy butterfly
was a batesian mimic of the monarch butterfly,
which is to say that it evolved
to copy the monarch’s warning signals
in order to deter its bird predators
In order to survive,
sometimes we take the bodies of others,
shed the tenderness of our insides
in the process of becoming.
But that’s not quite true,
what I thought about the viceroy being a batesian mimic of the monarch
(Mom stirs a homemade concoction with a disposable wooden spoon
because she hates hairdressers and it’s better this way)
Viceroy’s are actually categorized as müllerian mimics of the monarch,
which is to say that the two have evolved to copy
each other’s warning signals and
both benefit from their mutual imitation.
(Mom greases my ears and neck with vaseline
before coating my hair with a fishy,
chemical sweetness sharp enough to taste)
I don’t learn this in a classroom but
in a sanitized office with a cold armchair,
my university’s insurance and
someone to pick my brain,
turn the memories blue again.
(I see titanium metal plates burnt around the edges from use,
turning crisp tendrils to ash,
the all too metamorphic translation
of a girl’s desire to be pretty,
in order to survive)
My whole life I’ve been terrified of butterflies.
I can’t be fooled by an insect’s prettiness,
six legs, antennae,
and psychedelic dressing
Not that I could fool myself better,
when the humid summer heat
crawls up my hair shaft to its root,
dissolving the tedious work of an iron.
(You have to remember to say when it tingles
otherwise fire spreads through the white strips of skin
exposed from a careful comb with a long metal pick)
Stealing something that belongs to no one
Used to make me feel invincible.
Invincibility, not quite flight—
but the rush of careening towards the ground,
the certainty of pain and belonging.
I’m still terrified of butterflies.
(My scalp has not forgotten
Her hands have not forgotten
And the birds pluck at what remains)
Edited by: Ava Emilione
Issue 17 Credits
Photography: Zelle Westfall
Creative Direction: Payton Selby, Ava Emilione, Leslie Vargas, Zelle Westfall
Photography Assistants: Ruby Summer, Jewel Simpkins