a butterfly
flickers among headstones ‒
a moment on yours

Michael Thorley

Selection and comments by Gregory Piko

Each time I read this haiku it takes me somewhere new.

Why is this small poem so powerful? Firstly, the lines show just enough to convey the scene while leaving plenty of opportunity for the reader’s thoughts to travel far and wide. And secondly, Michael’s use of the word flickers is perfect. It conveys a sense of transience that is the strength of the poem.

Another writer might have been tempted to say:

a butterfly
flutters among headstones ‒
a moment on yours

But in this case, the heavy rhyme in the first two lines would draw attention to itself and overpower the potential impact of the poem. Use of the word flickers avoids this problem, instead allowing the emphasis to fall on the temporary nature of the butterfly’s movements. This impermanence is reinforced in the third line where the butterfly spends a moment on your headstone.

In Michael’s poem, he visits the grave of a loved one, only for the butterfly’s flickering presence to remind him that all life is fleeting. A butterfly’s movement, even a butterfly’s life, is as short as the flicker of a flame. In surveying the lengthy lines of headstones, one is reminded how human life is always little more than the flicker of a flame.

Our own life is special. The lives of our friends and family are special. And yet, in wandering the graveyard, the butterfly only has a moment to spend on your headstone, among all the other headstones. Were all these lives special to someone? Is there someone to visit each grave, and remember each life?

First published: Windfall, Issue 6, 2018

Gregory Piko