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Peter Huggins



In Biology I mixed
Plaster of Paris and cyanide
In a jar
No butterfly could escape.

I took a net
To City Park Lagoon and thrashed
Among the reeds and bushes.

I caught more butterflies
Than I dreamed possible.
The yellow and black tiger swallowtails
Barely fit into my jar.

Sometimes I caught a giant
Swallowtail and had to fold
Its wings to get it in.

At home I removed the tigers
From my killjar and mounted them
With pins on styrofoam.

I admired their lines, their spots,
Amazed that green larvae became
These delicate tigers
Whose metamorphosis is now complete.


Eating Louisiana

Think how many wonderful things
There are to eat.  Crabmeat au gratin.
Avocado with shrimp Garibaldi.
Turtle soup with sherry.
Gumbo, vichysoisse.  Red beans and rice.
Trout amandine.  Pompano en papillote.
Grilled soft-shell crabs.
Lobster Thermidor.  Eggs Florentine.
Grilled sirloin and Chateaubriand.
Chicken with red wine and mushrooms.

Think how wonderful these things are,
Then think of that most wonderful
Thing of all, of how it's perfect,
Of how it shouldn't be cooked or changed
At all, except to squeeze some lemon
On it and to dip it into cocktail sauce,
Of how the first person to eat it must have
Been very hungry, very brave and very clever
To have opened it and you have
The delicate smooth perfect raw oyster.


Opening the Possible

I don't think I could stand in
A uniform to teach Homer or Berryman.
I'd wind up saluting the trees and bricks.
I'm not sure I could have taught
These Virginia Military Institute
Cadets anything when I remember
Those cadets who in 1864
Rose from their Euclid and Virgil,
Grabbed their muskets and powderhorns,
Joined the regulars and chased
The Union troops up the Shenandoah
Before they could waste the valley
And starve Lee into submission.
What, then, would I have taught these cadets?
Since I don't know how to parry
Missiles with laser beams,
I would have taught them
About the heart, how it never varies,
Whether it clothes itself in homespun
Or synthetics, how its aspirations fuel
Its deceits and propel its hopes,
Without, sometimes, access to either.
I would have taught them
While we may fight each other
Endlessly over real or imagined differences,
We fight only against ourselves.
Our imperfect knowledge defeats us.
I say this without sorrow or anger.
I say this to remind you and me
Our failings open
The possibility of virtue.
I would have taught them something
Like that but I suspect
Either I wouldn't have lasted a week
Or I would have stayed there forever.


An Egyptian Dog

With all the rocks in space
You'd think they'd kill someone
As they fell from the sky.

You'd be wrong—the only
Report of death occurred in Egypt,
When a metorite struck a dog.

Perhaps that killer rock
Came from the asteroid belt
Between Mars and Jupiter.

Or maybe it was a piece
Of the moon or a stray bit
Of a wandering comet.

Whatever it was, the dog died.
The dog's owner grieved,
Then offered Set

A prayer before vanishing
Into the Western Desert
With all he owned

On the backs of three camels
And a strong desire
To search for rocks.


Peter Huggins books of poems are Necessary Acts, Blue Angels, and Hard Facts; he is also the author of a picture book, Trosclair and the Alligator, which has appeared on the PBS show Between the Lions, and a novel for younger readers, In the Company of Owls.
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