After the cocoon I was in a human body
instead of a butterfly’s. All along my back

there was great pain — I groped to my feet
where I felt wings behind me, trying

to tilt me back. They succeeded in doing so
after a day of exertion. I called that time,

overwhelmed with the ghosts of my wings, sleep.
My thoughts remained those of a caterpillar — 

I took pleasure in climbing trees. I snuck food
into all my pains. My mouth produced language

which I attempted to spin over myself
and rip through happier and healthier.

I’d do this every few minutes. I’d think to myself
What made me such a failure?

It’s all a little touchingly pathetic. To live like this,
a grown creature telling ghost stories,

staring at pictures, paralyzed for hours.
And even over dinner or in bed — 

still hearing the stories, seeing the pictures — 
an undertow sucking me back into myself.

I’m told to set myself goals. But my mind
doesn’t work that way. I, instead, have wishes

for myself. Wishes aren’t afraid
to take on their own color and life — 

like a boy who takes a razor from a high cabinet
puffs out his cheeks and strips them bloody.

  • This poem is from Four Reincarnations by Max Ritvo (Milkweed Editions, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Max Ritvo. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.

  • Source: Poetry (September 2016)

Poet Bio

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"I learned to enjoy older poems. At first, I hated the requirement that I had to choose a poem that was pre-20th century. However, as time went by, I began to enjoy the poems more and more. My favorite pre-20th century poet is now Emily Bronte. "
Eseme Segbefia
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