Paradise Lost

By Angie Crea O'Neal

March 13, 2017

Paradise Lost

My daughter spies it first, the butterfly limp on the pavement. She pleads to move it since the path, bordering the river, is crowded in late summer. I try my old tricks of distraction, the ones that used to work. “What if it’s just sleeping,” I muse, “like Jacob on his pillow of stones?”

But she’s nine now and knows.

I look east, over her shoulder, and imagine a cicada crawling back into its skin, molted wings furled against a grain of morning. Far from the elm, it burrows, returning deep for day into the mud below. And by the river, flagging branches that hang their rotted tips like fingers in the current are restored to technicolor green, like it was in the spring, before the wing-flitted body learned to plunder, conformed to the excesses of nature, its wings cutting a blank sheet of sky obliquely, consequence of flight the curse of indirection.

We get to work—dodging bikers, bearing the humidity like penitents—and using a dried magnolia leaf as a makeshift stretcher, lift its crumpled body over to a safer spot in the shade. It’s the best we can do, and so we make our solitary way, carrying the weight of its suffering between us under the light of an incriminating sun.

But what else could hold us together, love, I whisper like a prayer. What else could bring water from the stone, break the tender mollusk of our heart open from its shell?

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