The corpses weigh nothing, nearly nothing, even your breath
is breeze enough to scatter them

We steamed them in tupperware with a damp sponge
then we tweezed the stiff wings open

The wing colors would brush off if you touched them

3,000 butterflies raised and gassed
and shipped to Evolution, the store in New York
rented by an artist hired to design a restaurant

He wanted to paper the walls with butterflies

Each came folded in its own translucent envelope

We tweezed them open, pinned them into rows
on styrofoam flats we stacked in towers in the narrow
hallway leading to the bathroom

Evolution called itself a natural history store

It sold preserved birds, lizards, scorpions in lucite, bobcat
with the eyes dug out and glass ones fitted, head turned

Also more affordable bits like teeth
and peacock feathers, by the register
a dish of raccoon penis bones

This was on Spring

The sidewalks swarmed with bare-armed people
there to see the city

You could buy your own name in calligraphy
or written on a grain of rice
by someone at a folding table

Souvenir portraits of taxis and the Brooklyn Bridge
lined up on blankets laid over the pavement

The artist we were pinning for had gotten famous
being first to put a dead shark in a gallery

For several million dollars each he sold what he described 
as happy pictures which were rainbow dots assistants painted 
on white canvases

I remember actually thinking his art confronted death,
that’s how young I was

We were paid per butterfly

The way we sat, I saw the backs
of the other pinners’ heads more than their faces

One’s braids the color of wine, one’s puffy headphones, feather cut
and slim neck rising from a scissored collar, that one
bought a raccoon penis bone on lunch break

Mostly we didn’t speak

Another life glimpsed in a detail mentioned, leaving or arriving 

She lived with a carpenter who fixed her lunches

Come fall I’d be in college

I smelled the corpses on my fingers when I took my smoke break
leaning against a warm brick wall facing the smooth white headless
mannequins in thousand-dollar shift dresses

The deli next door advertised organic toast and raisins on the vine

Mornings, I tried to learn from eyeliner
and shimmer on faces near mine on the train

Warm fogged imprint on a metal pole
where someone’s grip evaporated

Everyone looking down when someone walked through 
asking for help

At Evolution, talk radio played all day

A cool voice giving hourly updates
on the bombing of another city which it called
the conflict

The pinner in headphones sometimes hummed
or started a breathy lyric

“Selfish girl—”

I watched my tweezers guide the poisonous exquisite
blue of morpho wings

Their legs like jointed eyelashes

False eyes on the grayling wingtips
to protect the true face

The monarch’s wings like fire
pouring through a lattice