Mop Work

With what’s left of our unremarkable lives 
we walk in what’s left of the world’s coastal prairie. 
Our beacon: the point’s blockheaded lighthouse, 
who oversees the water’s long war on the big dirt bluff, 
the whirlpools caught in the outcrops,  
the graying blues and greening grays of the sea 
or straight or whatever the national park plaques are calling that
immensity theses days. Thin white grass stalks 
submit to the wind of screaming growler jets, 
out of sight but all around, bound for the nearby 
air strip, or are they en route to “contain China?” 
Who knows? We guess Joe Biden but figure 
he would have mentioned something about the invasion 
in his last text. All he wanted was $15 for the future of our country,  
a future that will not contain this island’s marble butterfly, 
unless Jenny Shrum and her team of crack conservationists succeeds. 
In a lab setting they tie fallen cocoons to dowels with string 
and return the sprouted caterpillars to grass patches. Ten at a time. 
Twenty at a time on good days. Dime-sized. A lot of them die 
before they bloom their unremarkable white and green wings, 
flutter for a mate, and then die anyway. One bad year 
or one wicked storm could wipe the world of them. 
Their purpose in the chain remains unknown, which is 
reason enough to save them, reckons Shrum, Keats, 
the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, my friends 
and me on our mindless walk, stopped short by a thought: 
how to proceed without messing up the mop work? 
Leave a trail of butterflies? Send Joe the money? 
The lighthouse watches the rabbits tunnel 
into the water-beaten bluff, watches us pocket attractive rocks. 
Find me anything on earth that will outlive us. 

Rich Smith is the editor of The Stranger. He is the author of All Talk and Great Poem of Desire and Other Poems, both from Poor Claudia press.