Malpighi’s discovery of periodic reversal of direction in the heart-beat . . . .has remained almost in oblivion for nearly 260 years. Réaumur held that in the pupa and adult moth the heart beats backward; in the caterpillar, forward.
—HISTORY OF THE DISCOVERY OF PERIODIC REVERSAL OF HEART-BEAT IN INSECTS John H. Gerould, 1933
If your great-grandfather’s name was Orpheus, and your grandfather’s, Cecil, it seems only natural to long for music and second sight, a paisley like a female Promethea’s wing. Why all this art when her dark mate finds her, not by sight, but by pheromone in moonlight? Who can say. . . Along the curved margins of her wings, —color of old parchment—stitches of flame, but this moth is not drawn to flame. Apex of each forewing, dark eyespots initiating mysteries as they loom, wide, blind stare. Capsule of her head, a pair of ferny frons, a thick crop of burgundy “hair,” wild as any rocker’s before a concert of screams. But silence along the moth’s hindwings, inner margins, feathery scales that draw the eye yet conceal the striped lozenge of her body. In the same way, the burgundy covers of the book —poems Orpheus’s sister, Arcella wrote, 1874— conceal the lines and old parchment of many elegies. This friend lost to settle the west, that one to war, another to childbed. Arcella, too, gone before she was thirty. Sad, ancestral music unlike my children’s music that used to flow out the open windows of our house —piano, flute, guitar, djembe, saxophone— and wrap itself around me in the garden softly, so that pulling weeds became Moonlight Sonata, Be Thou My Vision, My All in All, heartbeat, Gonna Fly Now. Promethea caterpillar in autumn silks wild cherry leaf to stem, folds the leaf close as she spins herself within, waits, suspended until with a slow, backward beating of her heart, she ecloses into elegy, into flight, spring's burgundy flame.
Daye Phillippo is a graduate of Purdue University and Warren Wilson MFA for Writers. She is the recipient of a Mortarboard Fellowship and an Elizabeth George Grant for poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Natural Bridge, Shenandoah, Crux, The Comstock Review, The Fourth River, Cider Press Review, Great Lakes Review, The Adirondack Review, and others. She teaches English for Purdue University and lives in a creaky, old farmhouse on twenty rural acres in Indiana with her husband and their youngest son.