Looking Up

Back to Issue 13

A woman crossing the street looked back over her shoulder at the sky above St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. A jogger paused a few feet away and lifted his phone camera, while a man gesturing with his hands explained what was happening. It would be easy to miss what they saw, even if you are one who looks ahead instead of down at the sidewalk as I was when I stopped. It’s rare that any of us look upward.

Monarch butterflies trickled by the bell tower: one // twothreefour //// five // sixseven / eight // nineten… Against the blue sky, one or a pair or a trio would materialize, fly over, and disappear again into the blue above the schoolhouse across the street. It was not breezy, but they were buffeted, as if navigating a restless sea on a raft. “Imagine that for 4500 miles,” the woman exclaimed. “Glad I looked up.”

I strode on to Half Moon Used Books, where I found a copy of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets for the amount left on a giftcard I’d received at Christmas nine months earlier. Used bookshops affirm serendipity, and having teethed on the virtue of self-denial, I’m no good at just saying yes. Except that day, when I bought the book, and the owner, Jessica, and I joked about how well the paper giftcard had held up in my wallet. “Oh Bluets!” she said. “I loved that book. I hope you love it.”

Nelson’s last sentence is, “When I was alive, I aimed to be a student not of longing but of light.”

On the walk home, I paused again at St. Joseph’s and looked up at the monarchs. Onetwo // three //// four /// fivesixseven // tossed around but not turning off.  The ones who come back next spring will be the great grandchildren. I watched the bell tower until the stream dried up.

And then there was a Luna moth in the parking lot of the school. I’m not imagining this for effect, though no one was there with me to witness. It sailed by as I set out again, green after orange, yes after yes.

By Derek Furr

Derek Furr is the author of two mixed-genre collections, Suite For Three Voices and Semitones, and a book of literary criticism on poetry and performance. He grew up in rural North Carolina, taught public school in Virginia, and lives now with his family in the Hudson Valley, where he teaches literature and directs the MAT Program at Bard College.