Catherine Barnett


I was trying to look a little less like myself 

and more like other humans, 


humans who belonged, so I put on a skort.

Purchased in another life, when I had a husband 


and wrote thank-you notes and held dinner parties,

the skort even had its own little pocket,


and the fingerprint stains yellowing the fabric

were almost invisible, nothing to be ashamed of


as I walked past homes and faces

with their welcome signs and their no-trespassing signs.


I was hoping to look domesticated, 

or at least domesticable, 


that I too could walk the trails

and then return home, stretch out


beside another human and watch something

on a big screen until it was time to sleep. 


I too had veins at my wrist, 

and I'd read Maslow, 


with his hierarchy of needs. 

I remembered that love and belonging 


were pretty basic, and that at the top 

of the pyramid was transcendence.


Late that night I took off the skort 

and lay down on the kitchen floor of a house


where years ago a boy and his girlfriend

overdosed in the basement, a fact 


I try not to remember. 

There used to be a cross staked outside, 


beneath the blue spruce that died 

when the place was abandoned. 


Because I am afraid,

I left the outside light on.


Halogen burns hot, so bright 

it must have stunned the imperial moth


shimmering against the window screen.

Most moths would rather spin around lights 


than mate, which is all they are put here to do,

and sometimes they just tire themselves out 


flying at night. This one was disguised

as an autumn leaf, though it was only midsummer.


Size of my hand.

As much enigma as legerdemain,


very temporary,

at most she would live a week.


Something about the way she waited there, 

wings outstretched, still as a flat lichened stone,


made me want to rescue my copy of Maslow 

from the basement and study the hierarchy again.


In the diagram I saw sex at the very bottom--

along with eating, drinking, sleeping. 


I wondered if that meant it was foundational,

or optional. The moth, vibrating there


in the circle of light, seemed to be choosing

transcendence over other basic needs. 


Imperial moths have no mouthparts,

they don't eat, they make no sound.


In the morning, I buried her 

under the ghost spruce as cars sped by. 


Before I tossed the dirt back 

over the shallow hole, I took a photo, 


to prove there really was such a thing 

as an imperial moth. 


To prove she wasn't alone. 

Wings made of iridescent chitin 


arranged to look like leaf litter, 

in the dirt she glowed a little.

Found In Volume 53, No. 02
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  • Barnett
Catherine Barnett
About the Author

Catherine Barnett is the author of the collections Solutions for the Problem of Bodies in Space (Graywolf Press, 2024); Human Hours (Graywolf Press, 2018); The Game of Boxes (Graywolf Press, 2012), which was the recipient of the 2012 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets; and Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced (Alice James Books, 2004). She is the recipient, among other honors, of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2022 Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.