To Feed a Mockingbird

by Stephen Oliver

In the low lying patches of the exhibition space, over puddles, pieces of broken paint. Stuck on bushes (seen from the viewing area) a flail of gilt-like papyri flecks, as if blown from a terra cotta jar, suddenly opened after 2000 years. Or a gloriously exploded window display, an Autumn catalogue suggestive of David Jones, Harrods, Bloomingdales. Yet shocking as a terrorist blast of church glass.

A galaxy of butterfly wing fragments. An impossible Ming mosaic. Mosque ceramic of spilling fountains and heavenly gardens. A banquet oriental and wafer thin in torn, tremulous, bits. An exhibit at the Indianapolis Zoo of spectacular butterflies; exotic, rare species, consumed by a mockingbird. Lone predator. Thief at dawn. Over a two week spell, avoiding capture, consumed a banquet of diminishing returns. A fabled feast. An alchemy of slow horror. Uninvited guest to a resplendent menu:

(Heliconius sara) Small Blue Grecian, (Agraulis vanillae) Gulf Fritillary, (Anartia jatrophae) White peacock, (Ascia monuste) Great Southern White, (Asterocampa celtis) Hackberry, (Asterocampa clyton) Tawny Emperor, (Battus philenor) Pipevine Swallowtail, (Euptoieta Claudia) Variegated Fritillary, (Eurema Lisa) Dainty Sulphur, (Eurytides marcellus) Zebra Swallowtail, (Limenitis archippus) Viceroy, (Nympjalis antiopa) Mourning Cloak, (Papilio polyxenes) Black Swallowtail, (Phoebis philea) Orange-barred Sulphur, (Pterourus palamedes) Palamedes Swallowtail, (Urbanus proteus) Long-tailed Skipper, (Venessa atalanta) Red Admiral, (Venessa virginiensis) American Painted Lady, (Caligo artreus) Owl Butterfly, (Caligo eurilochus) Forest Mort Blue, (Caligo memnon) Giant Owl Butterfly, (Heliconius charitonia) Zebra Longwing, (Heliconius doris) Doris Butterly, (Heliconius erato) Crimson Patch Longwing, (Heliconius hecale) Golden Helicon, and (Marpesia petreus) Ruby Dagger Wing.

In the days that followed this calamity, and after the Associate Press had, according to the principals of the chaos theory (that a butterfly beating its wings in the Northern hemisphere will cause a storm out in the Indian Ocean) flashed this story around the globe – a spokesperson from the Indianapolis Zoo remarked, ‘Our bird could have dined on any of these, but he did seem to have a particular taste for the “Blue Morphos” – a beautiful, large, and slow-flying tropical species.’

The mockingbird was taken far away beyond the outskirts of the city and released. Presumably home, at last.

Originally from Wellington, New Zealand, Stephen Oliver occupies the most southerly latitude of any storySouth contributor in his current Sydney, Australia digs. Among his books are Henwise (1975), Autumn Songs (1978), Letter To James. K. Baxter (1980), Earthbound Mirrors (1984), Guardians, Not Angels (1993), Islands of Wilderness – A Romance (1996), Election Year Blues (1999), Unmanned (1999), and Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000. His work can be found in Ariga, Cordite, Deep South, 42Opus, Gangway, Melic Review, Snakeskin, Southern Ocean Review, Soma Literary Review, Southern Cross Review, Thylazine, Trout, Turbine, Stride, The Write Stuff, Virtual Writer, and Zuzu’s Petals Quarterly.