Edited and introduced by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc

This week we have a poem by Rachel Contreni Flynn, who is the author of two full-length collections and the co-editor of the venerable Beloit Poetry Journal. “Butterfly” pushes us into the deep water of experience with the story of a moment. “A father watches his daughter swim in a race” is the gloss one could give this poem, but there’s far more happening here than that.

The first few times I read this poem, I was caught up in the language and images, as I often am, like “the gold-tooled book” and the way the daughter becomes a “stubborn insect” who’s “flip / turning to scoop wildly at the end.” But now I see that the poem also shows us a father who’s replaced his Sunday worship with the prayerlike attention that he pays to his daughter’s races. This father is in awe of how his daughter’s become a butterfly and how sometimes in her transformation she finds something ineffable.

Butterfly

By Rachel Contreni Flynn

He comes to watch her from the upper balcony

swim after the gun cracks and the body he made

splays off the block into the chemical air

before churning forward. The quiet father

enjoys the humidity, youthful cheers, his hat

clutched between his knees. He used to pray,

used to carry the candles and avert his eyes,

the gold-tooled book held aloft. Sundays now

he watches his daughter struggle through water

that darkens as it deepens. A stubborn insect,

sometimes she wins by keeping up, then flip

turning to scoop wildly at the end as if gathering

from the water something rare and hidden

that does not belong to her.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2016 Rachel Contreni Flynn. It appears here by permission of the author.