Wings or Does the Caterpillar Dream of Flight by Cathryn Essinger


Monarchs are the most iconic of the North American butterflies and the only butterfly that migrates.  Every fall, Monarchs travel to a winter home among the oyamel firs in Mexico, a journey of over 2,000 miles.  This annual migration is threatened, however, by pesticides, climate change, and land development. Their numbers have plummeted by 80% in the last 20 years.  Naturalists and citizen scientists (and poets!) are working to preserve this migration by increasing awareness of the Monarch’s life cycle and preserving the habitat needed for its survival. These poems explore the myths and traditions associated with Monarch butterflies, while following their extraordinary journey from egg to caterpillar, to chrysalis and butterfly.


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 50
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: September, 2020
  • ISBN: 978-1-953252-00-5


“Instar to instar, words to wings….” —Robert Murphy, author of Among the Enigmas

In appropriately down-to-earth language, Wings gives us life in all of its insecurity, brevity, and glory. Like a young human teenager, the butterfly “cannot imagine a summer / that is not made for him.” Essinger is a poet-naturalist doing what she can to protect against the threat humans pose to the Monarch butterfly. But in capturing what’s at stake for the egg, the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the butterfly, she faces the dangers to us all in passing through our own stages and hoists a flag of wonder and warning. —Greg McBride, editor, Innisfree Poetry Journal

This is a quintessential collection, one where we learn as much we marvel, where science is nearly perfectly tuned to wonder. From the moment the dark eye “rises to…that tiny cathedral to memory” to the moment we learn “how you merge with the air,/ how the earth falls away and/ you become one with the sky,” we feel ourselves both one with the caterpillar—through all five moltings—and one with the human capable of crafting a perfect prosthetic wing. Truly, poems like these do their part in helping to heal a seemingly broken world. —Paula J. Lambert, author of How to Heal the World


Fifth Instar
Does the Caterpillar Dream of Flight?

It is impossible to tell whether her back propels
her front, all eight legs moving forward in pairs,

stripes on her body expanding and contracting
like an accordion, or if her four front feet

initiate the change, pulling her forward so the back
can follow. Either way, she moves in ripples,

like a woman in a many layered dress, with only
the toes of her patent feet appearing in succession,

a little four-step that lets her climb ever upward
around leaves and stems to some place where

she can dream, the way we all do, about leaving
this bulky body behind, trusting in a change

so profound that she will not recognize herself
in her next life. For the moment she is content

with her art deco stripes, neither high fashion
nor vaudeville, and a modesty not unbecoming

a changeling who trusts in a transformation
so complete that it could make you believe

in resurrection, if it were not so predictable.
Inside the chrysalis, she will be remade,

stems cells echoing their original intent until
she arrives crumpled and wet as a newborn,

one of the beautiful creatures, bedazzled,
but with new instructions. Now, she must learn

to measure the sun, drink from flowers,
fly on wings made in another life.


Cathryn EssingerCathryn Essinger is the author of four previous books of poetry, most recently The Apricot and the Moon, released this spring from Dos Madres Press.  Her other books include A Desk in the Elephant House, from Texas Tech University Press, as well as My Dog Does Not Read Plato and What I Know About Innocence, both from Main Street Rag.

Essinger’s poems have appeared in a wide variety of journals including Poetry, The Southern Review, The New England Review, The Antioch Review, Rattle, and River Styx.  Her poems have been nominated for Pushcarts and “Best of the Net,” featured on The Writer’s Almanac, and reprinted in American Life in Poetry.

Essinger is a retired professor of English and a long standing member of The Greenville Poets.  She lives in Troy, Ohio where she raises butterflies and tries to live up to her dog’s expectations. 

Additional information

Weight 3.8 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in