As we strolled through wildflowers, my daughter snatched a twig from the ground and waved it like a wand…
A sixth-sense flared in my daughter.
During a recent visit to the butterfly center, she grew fascinated with protective stratagems: tortoises safe in their shells; horned lizards safe in their camouflage; the Texas indigo snake, with its taste for predatory rattlesnakes, keeping ranchers unbitten. As we strolled through wildflowers, she snatched a twig from the ground and waved it like a wand, commanding venomless reptiles to find their poisons, gentle leaf-cutter bees to ready stingers, cocoons to rush thread-work so butterflies might escape. To the nighthawks roosting in their branches she whispered—stay motionless, wary.
My daughter’s compassion for small creatures delighted me, but I couldn’t help feeling worried that she’d overheard something of the recent talk in our town, concerning plans for land at the National Butterfly Center to be bulldozed to make way for a border wall. There’d been an article in the paper, warning of devastating flooding along the bank of the Rio Grande, the destruction of the desert’s only source of fresh water, and the annihilation of acres set aside for wildlife, including host plants that offered sustenance to monarch butterflies during their annual migration. I took my daughter’s hand. I explained the meaning of a refuge.
I felt no concern beyond that which I felt for my daughter. To me, the trees were too rooted to earth, the birdsong too rooted to sky, to worry for their survival.
As we left the center, we spotted an earthmover outside the gate, and even then, I told myself any alarm would be foolhardy. The very fact that there was only one truck meant the truck’s purpose must be for some small maintenance.
But now in this, our first return since that day, I watch my daughter’s eyes press against hardened cement. She’s murmuring incantations again, this time in a trembling voice, requesting a crack, a magic door. The guide spoke of such openings the last time we were here, in a talk called The Wisdom of Cocoons. “They always stitch in a weak line. Never forget those waiting wings.”
Forgetting was my mistake: that my daughter had heard the guide’s talk; that the construction had in fact taken place; that of course there would be an aftermath.
Rain of splinters fresh upon the ground, shredded silk, slabbed shadow falling after the trees, I explained it all to her as a protection.
As she straightens, I see a light of defiance entering her eyes.
Like a butterfly’s proboscis, her fingers now extend, probing the stone as though for nourishment. “What if they didn’t get out?”
I feel conscience-stricken. How did I fail to protect her from this? “I’m sure they did,” I lie softly, brushing the hair back from her face. “I’m sure they heard the trucks coming.”
Worry creases her brow, dark as the folding of wings. She doubts the sound of the trucks, the volume, the willingness to warn. She looks at the towering slab. “How high is it?”
I hesitate. Any answer seems dangerous. “I don’t know. Maybe 30 feet.”
“The pygmy owl can only fly six.”
I force myself to swallow. “Let’s walk,” I say, needing to bring her anywhere but here.
She stays rooted. She glares at the ground. She kicks at the ruin, the splinters, the failure of trees to stay strong.
“We could go home?” I offer. “Get some lunch?”
But now she is bending to pinch a fallen pine needle from the ground. As she straightens, I see a light of defiance entering her eyes. She turns to the wall and begins to slowly skim the needle across the cement, in an undulating caress of waves.
I watch the needle’s tip rise and fall, delicately, as though guiding a fine thread of silk. I watch the determined grace of her hands.
And in this, I know—within my daughter, all now decides itself. This wall will no longer be of rock but of cloth, and she, no longer merely a magician casting powerless enchantments, but an indomitable seamstress stitching in a weak line.
Caprice Garvin is a native New Mexican, currently residing in New Jersey. She studied in the Writing Division at Columbia University, where she was awarded the Woolrich Award for Excellence in Writing, and in the Writing Division at Sarah Lawrence College where she earned an MFA in fiction. Her work has most recently appeared in The New Verse News and Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and is forthcoming in Lily Poetry Review.
Header photo by Darkdiamond67, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of Caprice Garvin by Elizabeth Barbato LaPadula.