In this season of spring and rebirth, it’s worth remembering that our most profound transformations are often not easy ones. This week’s poem finds poet Betsy Sholl meditating on the metaphor of the caterpillar and the butterfly, and how it might help us in our most difficult changes – including the passage through grief.

Sholl’s ninth collection of poetry is “House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems” (University of Wisconsin, 2019), winner of the Four Lakes Prize. She teaches in the MFA writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and served as Maine’s poet laureate from 2006 to 2011.

The Caterpillar

By Betsy Sholl

What does it know when it eats and eats,
turning leaves into dried up lace,
or a teenager’s hole-ridden jeans?

When it spits out thread and wraps
itself tight, does it know it’s going
to decompose and be transformed?

Or is it just wound up in itself, wound
and wounded, shut blind in its own dark
as if hunched over on the therapy couch

held rigid or falling apart in sobs,
not knowing anything can ever budge,
that there’s an outside to step into?

I asked my love why he kept
in his office a green cloth caterpillar
hand puppet he could turn inside out

to untuck bright silky wings. For a child,
I assumed, but he said, No – for anyone
passing through pupa, falling apart

or needing to let go. I never thought
to ask how he used it. Maybe it was
just there all potential in that room,

as it is now here without him,
plush parable of a creature having to
let go everything in order to change.

Megan Grumbling is a poet and writer who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. “The Caterpillar,” copyright © 2021 by Betsy Sholl, appears by permission of the author.

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