Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Mid-September, dear woman, and the monarch
lights once more upon the purple panoplied
butterfly bush in the now-decaying garden,
as it has for these past thirty Septembers.

And once again, like the softest breeze, I feel
your gentle presence and lift my open hand
toward it, toward you, hoping for a sign, me,
your firstborn, who never seemed to have

the time while you were with us still.
My hand unfolds, the monarch hovering,
before it turns to float across the garden
to another bush to settle there instead.

And still I wait, wondering if it, if you,
might rise from the distant purple and return
here by my open trembling hand and settle,
if only for a moment, dear woman, before

you lift and travel to some distant land
as monarchs will. How you loved butterflies,
so much so I had one etched on your gravestone
when you left us that September, having given us

all you had before the cancer took you, took you
oh too soon. Remember that final phone call,
your voice already tired, when I said I’d be there?
I said. I said. Then driving north through the rain-

soaked night, getting lost and more lost as on
we drove, then through the door too late. Stay now,
mother, stay just a little longer, before you’re
off again, bound for some other place called home.
                            H.M. March 6, 1923—September 16, 1988

—Paul Mariani