Upon Reading That Butterflies Can’t Get Sodium From Flowers So They Must Seek It From Other Sources

by Chelsea Dingman

Some find it in shit. Some in dirt. Some in tears. 
Three tortoises in sun. Butterflies surrounding them.

Drinking their tears in a Peruvian jungle. Elsewhere,
four of us. 1985. There were never five. The Columbia

valley. The turtle we got after our dog was mauled
while we were sleeping. How I walked home each day

wanting to feel alive. Which is different from not wanting
to die alongside my father & my dog & my mother

who had cancer she kept hidden with her
cheque book & the decades of men who storied our lives

as though any man would do. As though fathers
didn’t keep turning up dead, like all the good 

gods before them. And there was nothing I could do.
Nowhere to surrender salt water to the world & ask

to be surrounded instead. Just quiet. The river
passing slowly beneath bridges. Rain falling.

Commensalism: the estrangement of selves
into tenses: before & after the shadow

of a girl had fled & I was left. Lonely. My mother
waking to the dog torn apart in the garage. 

Her tears, as she held the collar in her hands
that morning. As I peered in a casket, black

stitches peering back. I refused to cry. If only
I would’ve known how to be surrounded. 

How to offer something of myself to keep something else
alive. It is always morning in this story. Or mid-afternoon.

Or night. It is always 1985. December. Or it is 2007
when I have my first miscarriage in Florida

& the light is thin as December 
in my heart & I am tired of pretending miscarriage

isn’t a form of self-harm. Or it is 2020 & I find
myself with a new child, but I can’t stop

crying because I fear I might die, soon or too young,
dehydrated by her hot mouth. The lives turned to salt

in my hands as my brother goes to rehab
after almost dying & my mother is in hiding

again. What would any good god do? Or what god
would do any good? I don’t know what it means

to be loved. A woman I work with loses her life
as I research & write. Still, her daughters 

wake up alone. What is there to do but cry?
In Florida, I become dehydrated just by being 

outside. There is no shortage of people
crying. Nor guns firing across golf courses

& campuses. I am never more afraid 
than when I am alive. I vow to leave. My children

clasped in my hands. But each country I touch
makes me cry. Each time I am turned to salt

again, called orphan, or woman, or service animal. 
And my first country, my mother: not dying. 

Not mine. Which is to say: there was a gun
in my father’s hand one night. 1976. As he drank

& she cried. As I struggled to stay alive inside
her. But that is their story, not mine. I leave Florida

to walk my children past my childhood
river. A pipeline cuts through houses

where I walked away in the dim winter
light. I find myself standing by the river,

looking for a place. Nowhere that isn’t dear
around us. Where I am alive in the cries

of my children, raucous or raw,
& everything that is our lives. 


Chelsea Dingman’s first book, Thaw, was chosen by Allison Joseph to win the National Poetry Series (University of Georgia Press, 2017). Her second poetry collection, Through a Small Ghost, won The Georgia Poetry Prize (University of Georgia Press, 2020). Her third collection, I, Divided, is forthcoming from Louisiana University Press in 2023. She is also the author of the chapbook, What Bodies Have I Moved (Madhouse Press, 2018). Visit her website: chelseadingman.com.