Natasha Kochicheril Moni



It takes twenty-eight years plus three hundred and fifty-five days to learn enough
about your family, understand the great uncle beyond his hair, always swooped      
in half-figure eight, those trademark eyes glacial even in black and white.

Before your mother unwound with disease, her father's ashes released
who would discuss the War, detail every eldest son whose name
was Hank. Un-photographed years posit in your mother's shoulders,

her brother's upper hunch, the everything that was never
discussed at dinner, why butterflies are messengers remembered
from torture chambers, their inscription the lesson for your grandfather's

brothers who made their bodies slight as insect for escape.
And how the women, the wives vanished, their children
packed for the country, their worry ushered like kerchief

underneath sleeve or daring between breasts. No wonder
your grandfather trusted a sharp blade, the first push from bank,
the cinnamon whirl from windmill on the opposite side of the lake.

Now, by the waters too warm to freeze, your mother speaks
and speaks, unbinds the skein behind her father's collection
of antique skates—here a host of reasons to keep the family

sealed in a bed of ice.



Louisa is not thinking about air holes,
or the way her knees
will press toward her ears
when she sits inside the refrigerator box.

She is not thinking of The Lucky Dragon,
Chinese-Canadian smorgasbord
that hired her to wait
on Sundays, this Sunday.

She is busy with geography:
rivers coiled like lo-mein,
valleys slick as menu cards,
hillocks folded like fortune.

Somewhere in Saskatchewan,
Louisa's son pours coffee
into a blue mug, admires
petite birds on power lines.

He is not considering silver bows
over This Side Up,
or the force required to propel oneself
from cardboard into morning.




          That night the butterfly scorched

          in the woodstove, due to inattention, mine

          and the butterfly's. Flame sputtered as smoke

          formed a pillow for the insect's final sleep—black

          smearing the beads of azure that lined its wings.

                                                             And I did not know the sound of butterfly,

                                                  trapped in fire, the small beating against current, the pop

                                                 of madrona against wing.

                                                                                              And the butterfly,

                                        gone blacker than any butterfly in nature, puffed

                                   its wings as if to fly but froze instead, its body thin as rice

                                paper in my palm, its heat a slight singe.



                                        I come from a clan of butterfly

          watchers, not deaf to the turn

          of Swallowtail,

          not unaware of what the dark

                    butterfly brings.

                              I can close my eyes

                    and feel blood, the flutter

          of ventricles dipping their wings.



                              My family carries red roses to the sea

                                        and pine switches, sliced

                    from our Christmas tree, its skirt

                              of boughs—shortened

                              to honor Father, Grandfather, a man

                                        who commanded thousands

                     of conifers for his Dutch nursery,

                              and my brother breaks

                              the crust of the earth

                                        delivers my mother's candle

                                        into it, shores up the candle

                                                  with sand, a small

                                                  flame before wave

                                                            and they practice

                                         letting go, one

                                                  at a time.

                              When a rose returns, my aunt

                                        returns it, her arm the arc

                                        of what my mother remembers—

                                                  my father, me, her sprig

                               three roses, red, she releases

                                        and from her palm, a trail

                                        of phosphorescence

                                                  her body to sea



          I smell the earth; it is thick with rain.

          On my altar a dragonfly wing,

          I hold beneath my Grandfather's image—

          pin it with stone, some smoky

          quartz. It is early winter, between Mourning

          and Long Nights Moon. I sacrifice nothing

          but wood and paper, I draw white

          butterflies on white paper, wait for the moon

          to acid-test my sketch, already slipping.


In my Dutch family there is a connection between spying a black butterfly and having a relative pass away. "How We Sketch The Departed" pulls from this experience and the more literal incineration of a butterfly in a woodstove. It is an offering to both my Dutch and Indian families who experienced loss at the end of 2004.

"As In Dutch, As In You" was conceived after my Opa's death. My mother shared some classic black and white photos of our family, as well as the scant details concerning her uncles' escapes from Nazis. During the War, my Opa managed to pursue his love for speed-skating.

"When her son in Saskatchewan wins an award for his electrical work, Louisa arrives as a present". Her name is not really Louisa but she is a native B.C. waitress who served a friend and I with such attention, we almost forgot we were in a Canadian-Chinese smorgasbord. Thank you, J for your stories.