(Edited some 12 hours after original posting to add a post title.)
For the last month or so, scarcely a day goes by without another news story about a once-in-a-decade phenomenon, a record influx, a mass migration… the huge clouds of painted lady butterflies that are appearing across the UK.
And for the last month or so, I’ve been watching hopefully – but in vain – to observe this “butterfly bonanza”.
Today, at last, I spotted one.
She was very obliging and sat to have her picture taken, even choosing a plain stone background that set off her colours rather than a multi-coloured floral background that might have distracted.
I don’t have many relevant butterflies in my files, but perhaps the devotees in this poem count as painted ladies:
In Beauty’s Temple
A novice greets and robes the worshippers
then leads them to the alabaster fonts
for ritual cleansing. On all sides
primary-coloured bulldogs snap and snarl
and rat’s-tails drip from plastic teeth
while cotton snakes writhe and entwine
in chemical intoxication.
One priestess braids a dreamcatcher
from human hair: she weaves
bright beads and tassels
with unnatural plumes. Neither
Solomon in all his glory
nor the gaudiest bird of paradise
wore feathers quite so fine.
Another white-gowned Little Sister
works a different alchemy: her task
is to disguise grey winter roots
in shades of Indian summer.
Through her fingers flows a slow
amber cascade. Silver and steel
are transformed into gold; mahogany
and chestnut are made liquid
in this sanctuary.
Mirrored walls reflect
the metamorphoses. The devotees rise,
phoenix-like, restored to youth; they leave
their tithes and offerings,
their minds lulled by the steady hum
of handheld Santa Anas
that teach the autumn rivers
how to dance.
Which reminds me: I’m probably overdue a trip to the hairdresser’s.