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Yosemite, CA

The Death of a Queen


I won’t go sit with the dead,

dressed up and watching the box as if it’s something holy.

It’s just a box.  Just a body.  Just withered flesh and bone.

I won’t sit there, receive hugs from people I rarely see,

accept condolences on a death that was expected.

I won’t sing songs of the great hereafter

that echo in a hollow place inside of me.

My grandmother is dead.

She was almost 90 years old and bore 14 children.

She was a preacher’s wife.

She was also the Queen of the Butterflies.

She used to have a tree in her yard—the butterfly tree.

Every summer, butterflies from all over the holler

found their way to her front yard to that tree.

I remember the tableau of thousands of butterflies

gathered into fluttering petals,

clusters of mystery amongst the branches.

Ensconced with me under the tree

was my granny, her head thrown back,

her body browned and sturdy,

laughing with me, swinging me

out of Hazard, Kentucky and into

the Land of Summer,

where she was more than a wife, mother and grandmother—

she was the Queen of the Butterflies

and I was her princess.

The last time I visited, she had already left her body.

There was no one behind the face that stared at the ground a lot,

no motive behind the hands that shook or often didn’t work at all.

There was no laughter from the mouth she had once spoken from,

only a slack, paralytic grimace that made me look away.

I won’t go watch them tuck her body into the ground,

people who never really saw her crown.

I would rather imagine a royal burial

with songs of the holler,

butterfly pall bearers

and a tomb of blue sky.

– Kathryn Cody