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The Power of the Butterfly

Dreamed winter 1997 by Lisa Gale Garrigues

I began to realize that I wasn't able to leave the cabin. The main road back to town was flooded. The small sloping dirt road that led to the cabin had become a stream of running water. I built a dam in front of the house to divert the water from coming into the cabin, and I began to ration the food I had left--two cans of soup, three carrots, one zucchini. I didn't know how long it would be before I could get back to town for supplies.

And still I dreamed, and still I grieved. It felt at times like I was grieving and dreaming myself to death, that my body would be found in my cabin, swallowed up by the hunger of my own grief and dreams.

In one dream...

An old brown-skinned man with a voice like the crackling of leaves came to me and said, "You've been catching too many butterflies." He showed me a picture of myself holding a heavy net filled with the glop and ooze of too many butterflies. Their colors all ran together in a gray mass of butterfly pudding. And the net was heavy. Too many things and experiences caught and held just for the sake of a new thing or experience. Consume, consume, consume. Get, get, get.

As I peered inside the net I fell inside it. I was trapped inside my own net, struggling in this oozy glop of insect pudding.

I looked for a way out. The old man was standing a few feet away. Laughing at me. He had a big belly laugh which rose and broke over and over again like waves of the sea. How could he be laughing in the midst of all this grief, I thought.

"It all comes from the same place." the old man said. I could see that his laughing eyes were filled with tears. In that moment it was as if he had handed me that place where all laughter and tears begin, and I could feel it shaking in my belly.

"Let go the net," he said.

I let go. The net and the dying butterflies washed away on the ocean of laughter and tears. I was left standing alone. "The only one you need to catch," the old man said, still laughing at me, "is the big one."

"What's that?" I asked.

"Your own soul, stupid" he said, and walked away.

Out of my empty hands, wings began to form. The wings grew along my arms and spread with luminous color. I let these wings slowly lift me into the wind, and soared. Looking down I saw the flood, washing everything away.

Paint-sketch by Wayan of dream by Lisa Gale Garrigues of flying on butterfly wings. Click to enlarge.
Was I dead yet? I wondered, when I woke up from this dream with the memory of flight still tingling in my arms. I looked in the brown paper bag where I kept my food. There was a can of soup and half a carrot. If there was still food there, I reasoned, I probably wasn't dead. I promised the old man with the skin the color of baked mud that if I got out of this thing alive I would remember what he had shown me.

Late that afternoon, the rains stopped. I put boots on and walked out in front of the cabin, looking up at the still sullen sky. I breathed, feeling cleansed.

--Lisa Gale Garrigues

SOURCE: the prose/poetry chapbook Reinventing Fire, 1999, Wild Spiral Press; Power of the Butterfly is Part 2 of the three-part memoir Rain, about California's floods that winter. Used with permission. Illustration: Chris Wayan.

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