VANESSA

My cousin was named Vanessa, a flower
deducted from the family tree as a child,
riding her bike down their rural driveway
as she did
when she heard what she thought
was her parents’ car.

The truck didn’t stop.

The name was coined by Jonathan Swift,
rearranging
the initial syllables of his lover’s name
for secrecy in a poem:
Esther Vanhomrigh - somehow
her grandmother, my favourite aunt, mother’s
sister, inconsolable,
read somewhere how Swift’s friend,
the naturalist Fabricius
applied it to a genus of butterfly
that includes
the red admiral and other painted ladies.

My aunt became obsessed with butterflies,
propagating
swan plants for monarchs
(such was the craze at the time)
wooden butterflies on the side of the house,
butterfly jewellery, butterfly prints on her dresses.

In her mind I imagine Vanessa as a
kind of Psyche, a soul with butterfly wings,
symbol of rebirth, perfect
in the glassine envelope with a faint

nimbus dusting of wing scales.

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