deep sleep

i’ve never seen the deep sleep of monarch butterflies

but I can imagine

the taste of their relief in the eucalyptus grove

the slow nectar of thawing winter,

a rare ice wine steeped with pine needles instead of champagne

at the end of passport control

the pollen is a confetti of stars

 

only ancestors know the exhaustion of butterflies

3,000 miles crossed to reach their winter bed

four generations lost, four generations of wings

coins of stained-glass

to mark the tolls, the border stops, the layovers in cold airports

 

there are always things lost in a move

the back of an earring, a creased recipe, a tiffin of spices you will later replace in a

supermarket aisle, the name slipped sideways, the spice soul-muted.

 

the new creatures never saw the recipe or tasted taja from the old bazaar

but the flavor lives behind their milkteeth

even with wings amniotic damp and crimped tight like a newborn’s fist

the butterflies remember to crave milkweed

 

deep in their thin bellies

the secret alchemy of ambrosia to poison

enough to ward off the jackdaws and square-pupiled lizards

their wings an orange caution:

 

I am not to be devoured, they say

 

Children of exile are used to this

We know to toss salt over our shoulders

To turn our pockets inside out in banana groves

To place kajal behind our ears to ward off evil eyes

To walk quietly or lose money

Alchemy remembered, superstition to sign

To ward off the police, the creditors, the children on the playground:

 

I am not to be devoured, we say

 

Newly wakened monarchs always know where home is

 

This is the secret of exoduses

 

sun compasses, azimuthal angles of light

the hidden sinew of butterfly clocks, set for spring

or, I think, inherited maps

 

On their wings, the language of immigrants

 

Many, but not all, things are lost in a move

 

Behind my eyes, landscapes I haven’t seen

Hooked in my jaw, the silhouettes of stories

Sewn to my dreams, the whirring of tongues

Jointing my bones, milk myths

 

There are tales I lap up on a curled tongue

Their flavors craved, from birth,

Like milkweed

Poison to jackdaws who shout — go home —

 

My mouth cannot hold more than one language

So they are lost

With the back of an earring and someone’s necklace clasp, the tiffin of spices, that old

photo taken by what’s-her-name, wing dust the color of saffron

 

But I remember a dialect I cannot speak,

Look

Here, printed on the arches of my heart

Split like a monarch’s wings

 

Look close—

I will always know the way back home

 

(Editors’ Note: “deep sleep” is read by Joy Piedmont on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast, Episode 34B.)

Roshani Chokshi

Roshani Chokshi is the author of commercial and critically acclaimed books for middle grade and young adult readers that draws on world mythology and folklore. Her work has been nominated for the Locus and Nebula awards, and has frequently appeared on Best of The Year lists from Barnes and Noble, Forbes, Buzzfeed and more. Her New York Times bestselling series includes The Star-Touched Queen duology, The Gilded Wolves, and Aru Shah and The End of Time, which was recently optioned for film by Paramount Pictures.

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