{eastern tiger swallowtail} by Daniel Barnum

common across half the country in spring
and summer. males less showy than females
and smaller. front wings the big cat pattern,
yellow dots in the bottoms’ black outline.
stops its innately epileptic flight
on a dead branch sticking out of the dam
formed from garbage and organic matter

at the breakwater that spans four fifths
the creek’s total width. stays still and close
enough for me to remember. first new
world lepidoptera to be painted
by white hands, a minister most aptly
named john white. part of sir walter raleigh’s
third expedition to the virginia

territory, helped found the later lost
colony on roanoke island which
highway 64 now connects to main-
land north carolina. signed the picture
with insignia and an indian
word he wasn’t sure of but he thought meant
butterfly: mamankanois. there is no

one alive who knows. white’s granddaughter, last
seen in 1587 (the same
year he saw the swallowtail) virginia
dare—first white child born on the continent—
vanished with her parents into land
that they had cleared from wild growth
with their own hands, pale as impenitence.

after years delayed by war with spain, good
reverend white returned to the eastern shore
with ships’ hulls full of supplies. well met by
nobody but the surprise of absence,
he sailed west to the coast. most folks believed
the missing were taken in by chesapeakes
as refugees until wahunsenacawh,

chief of tsennacommacah lands (known now
as powhattan (or the algonquin word
for “dad” to pocahontas) boasted to
have killed the white girl in a siege he’d laid
with warrior bands on the white-dare
settlement in defense of ancestral
mapless borders. north four hundred sixty

miles, two hundred years later, it’s more
than likely ludwig derr watched the black
and butter colored blur of the eastern
tiger’s sun-drunk stumble once or twice.
his weren’t the first white eyes fixed on this part
of pennsylvania but supposedly
he was the only one (white man, I mean)

who got on well with the neighbors whose homes
he had legally stolen. no record
of his bribes exists, but it’s assumed
he would permit a few indigenous
tribes to use his grist mill to grind maize
and trade for wheat flour, linen bolts, metal
instruments—compensatory trinkets

for continuous [white] coexistence.
despite this colonial etiquette
experts gesture to his disappearance
and damn it as susquehannock revenge.
by the end of the eighteenth century
and age of exploration, derrtown sought
incorporation because indians

never fought its existence—or so say
written histories. points-of-interest signs
on every other block leave out opinion.
at the riverwalk’s headpoint, owners left
an inch-thick square plaque hand-cut from timber,
decoupaged with an ancient inkjet writ
advisory printed on [       ] paper,

nailed to a tulip tree. tells would-be
trespassers the welcome policy,
this-land-is-(y)oursing private property
in neo-hippie legalese. RESPECT
THE TRAIL declares the faded font below
the bubbling plastic sleeve. reads on, ENJOY
AT YOUR OWN RISK, and ends in clip art glyphs

for universal peace, ☮ ✌. wide white
blanks cleave Ys between the little ring
and fingers like wings on display. twenty feet
from there, when that live staccato flare arcs
into vision at the concrete causeway,
it hits me hard suddenly just how close
derr sounds to dare. logic finds no reason

to relate these facts or research old words
butchered by cartography except ghosts,
coincidence vs. history: patterns
of insect migration, surnames pronounced
as homophones, revisionist mysteries,
uncertain zones’ strained place relations, myths
gone missing, stains of nation-making, white

Daniel Barnum is currently on exchange at Uppsala University studying literature and translation. “{eastern tiger swallowtail}” is excerpted from an ongoing project.