Like a Moth to Flame

Day 8 of a poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (this one, too, from the “Back for Forwards” section, after “The Living Murder” and “Snake and Not Snake“).

“Like a Moth to Flame”


We do not know
why go they go
into the light
burning them bright.

It is a cheat
to call it heat.
The pheromonal draw
cannot explain it all—
not only male moths
drawn to not only
infrared lights
seeking not only
female mothly delights.

The Mach band, then.
Bright light, when
you stare at it,
gives off a dark hit.
Moths fly to it,
circling the light,
seeking cover of darkness—
getting reality’s opposite hardness.



You can’t see
what it means to me.
Why I must go back
to the scene of the attack.

I will tell you why
the hardest things
call to my wings.
A far cry
from self-destruction.
The moth knows
the flame is real—
wants to live, fly, heal.

I do not know
if it is courage or cowardice,
the opposite will to letting it go.
To know the pain of fire,
the wounds of its burning,
and return to this.
You think it does not matter
as long as I live.
Sometimes I flatter
myself that I might have
something more than living
to give.



It is the moon, they used to say.
The moth is navigating by the biggest light.
Then is confused by electrics at night.
It’s nothing to do with heat—
just a mistake in navigating flight.

Like a moth into flame,
I used to navigate by pain.
I have to learn again and again
that getting back to work
doesn’t mean doing things that hurt.

Just because it’s hard
doesn’t mean you need to use more force
against your own wings that are charred.
Although the older moths may have said
to navigate by the bright light overhead,
you have to listen first to what feels right.
Do not fly into painful light.



The modern moth enjoys more equality than ever.
The empowered moth is both fashionable and clever.
The agile moth reaches her goals with grace and speed.
The evolved moth reports high life satisfaction and low need.
The independent moth is successful in career and family.
The feminine moth is strong and independent, but not manly.
The surviving moth is focused and productive while alive.
The ambitious moth flies directly into the flame and dies.



When you’re flying, sometimes you can’t tell
if you’re heading up or down.
It’s how many pilots fell
to the accidental ground,
or into the ocean and drowned.
When you’re doing something hard
and perhaps well worth doing,
sometimes you can’t tell there’s heat
until you’re already charred.
A cigarette falls on you, and it’s the hole
that brings you back to greet
the body in your soul.

Sometimes you can’t feel it at first,
can’t tell if you’re hot or you’re cold.
At that moment pulling away is the thirst
and every touch is too bold,
but you can’t tell which way is away
and anyway, insisting gets old.

I need to be alone with the night.
I need to try to grasp the darkness
and beat it with my wings
while also dancing in the light.
Mark this:
moths are not delicate things.
Moths do not need your protection
(although moths enjoy your company).
Moths do not exist for your dissection
(although moths may enjoy showing off, when they feel free).
Sometimes I lie, but always with the truth.
(I only feel safe when your shoulder gives me proof.)
There is no animal so full of wonder
as a poet, except a moth.
No one so willing to fight
existence itself for the light.