Richard Spilman

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In Monterey for a race
on the old Can-Am circuit,
we found a motel, a collection of cabins
strewn through the trees like dice
from a children’s game.
One big oak in the middle of it all,
flocked with gray as if a terrible frost
had shriveled its leaves.

Before we unpacked we went to see.
The gray shivered, opened
just a bit, like mussels feeding.
Not leaves, but butterflies,
wings closed, thousands—
perhaps millions in trees nearby—
gathering strength
for the long flight to Mexico.

If faith is trust in things not seen,
it’s also what tempers
the judgment of light-blinded eyes—
the pupa’s shroud, the child’s
tantrum—where seeing is too often
believing. Despite the evidence,
we knew this was death
on a tree, a planet clothed in ash.

Still, next morning, up before dawn,
we sat on the stoop drinking coffee,
a salt breeze in our hair,
the tree chiaroscuro in the glow
of string lamps hung pole to pole.
At dawn, the lights blinked out.
We stayed, talked, fasted,
while the crews packed and left.

A rustling like windblown leaves.
A flickering of bright sparks,
as if the tree were flowering.
Then, in one breath, they rose,
swirling like a shoal of schooling
fish, paused, took shape,
and rolled south, wave after wave,
in a bright hosanna of flame.

Richard Spilman is the author of In the Night Speaking and of a chapbook, Suspension. His work has appeared in many journals, including Poetry, The Southern Review, Image and Ascent. Richard was born and raised in Normal, Illinois, half a block from Main Street in a house on the banks of Sugar Creek. He has spent his life both embracing and attempting to escape Normal.

Photo credit: “Overwintering Western monarchs” by USFWS Midwest Region, via

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