Black Butterflies

Flakes of ash, they light
on leaves and grass on this bluff
above the Yellow Sea,
not yellow but a dented
turquoise floor, violent
despite a cloudless afternoon.
We've left the guided tour.
My sons discover a notch
on the hillside, a cave closed
by swords of brambles.
We duck and enter the cool dark,
nervous and no matches.
There's a glimmer, a niche,
and beyond—endless blue.
Sentries crouched here, spying
at enemy ships during the occupation.
Old photos show Japanese soldiers
in Nanjing practicing bayonet drills
on bound Chinese prisoners.
From our lookout we spy
white flags of waves
marching in afternoon sun.
We emerge, blinking like newborns.
To our right, Laoshan—Old Mountain—
rises holy and green.
Below, tired Chinese tourists
straggle back to busses.
Here, black butterflies whirl
like bits of paper,
harmless, their occupation
of the hill complete,
the small pages of their wings
chronicling the history
of life and death on earth
in a language lighter than air.

Ed Harkness | Mudlark No. 13
Contents | At the Site of the Underground Missile Silo