The Butterfly Chest – Alexis Pearson

It’s time to drag the chest from the corner of the attic.
The one with
             the butterflies
             in it. 

Sometimes I rip the nails from the floorboards and try to swallow them straight down my
throat without the tip of the nail poking my insides.

Momma says it’s time to reopen the butterfly chest.

As a child I would pull the blankets tight over my feet, cocooned by the darkness,
thinking little people would build houses around my toes if I gave them the space to do it.

Now the little people are in my head and they’re more concerned with destruction than
if you ask them,
             it’s all the same.
So I guess you could say there’s more than one
way to make a butterfly. My cumbersome feet shuffle through dark rooms,
my hands quivering while I draw wings on my eyelids, seeing if I can trick
them into thinking

             they can fly.

I am fond of the butterflies, always have been,
but I don’t know, don’t know how to hold them without crushing their wings.

But there is a ferocity out there that they fear more,
             for the little people pluck the wings of butterflies.

             That’s what the chest is for.
             I want to keep them safe but Momma says they can fend for themselves.
             And Momma says that butterflies don’t feel pain
             but I think she’s confusing the butterflies with the little people.

And I tell her that a little pain is okay, anyway, or even a lot sometimes, as she climbs the
stairs to the attic.

That’s why it’s time to reopen the butterfly chest, she says.

The ceiling shakes and I try to catch the
             dust on my tongue like snow and
             I watch the clock tick while I count my heart beats.
             Isn’t it funny how sometimes

you can feel your heart in your throat and for a second you choke, wondering how the
same organ could possibly be used to love and then I remember that

love is just a word
someone made up once
as a hand
for pain to hold

it digging its fingers into it,
us clinging our fingers onto it,
desperation tasting like victory,

victory the nameless lover in my bed,
love the faceless demon in my head.

Alexis Pearson writes for those who look to ground themselves with the familiarity of experience found in her poetry. She has been published in Upper Mississippi Harvest, Fourth and Sycamore, Sonder Midwest, Snapdragon: A Journal of Arts and Healing, and others.