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Wednesday, May 28, 2008 07:06 am

People's poetry

Presented by Jacqueline Jackson

Untitled Document ecopoem #12

we have so many
ways to kill
if wars don’t get us
weather will

© Jacqueline Jackson 2008

How often have you wondered what might be going on inside a child’s head? They can be so much more free and playful with their imaginations than adults, and are so good at keeping those flights of fancy secret and mysterious, that even if we were told what they were thinking we might not be able to make much sense of it. Here Ellen Bass, of Santa Cruz, Calif., tells us of one such experience.
Dead Butterfly
For months my daughter carried a dead monarch in a quart mason jar. To and from school in her backpack, to her only friend’s house. At the dinner table it sat like a guest alongside the pot roast. She took it to bed, propped by her pillow.
Was it the year her brother was born? Was this her own too-fragile baby that had lived — so briefly — in its      glassed world? Or the year she refused to go to her father’s house? Was this the holding-her-breath girl      she became there?
This plump child in her rolled-down socks I sometimes wanted to haul back inside me and carry safe again. What was her fierce commitment? I never understood. We just lived with the dead winged thing as part of her, as part of us, weightless in its heavy jar.

Poem copyright ©  2007 by Ellen Bass and reprinted from The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Ted Kooser served as the U.S. poet laureate 2004-2006. For more information,  go to