Scarlet Tiger

We’d have killed it
if we’d had the courage –
to crush a body this
bloated or stamp on wings
like shrivelled walnuts.
Was it a mutant? Too slow
to break free and make
for the open?

It scuttled out of the leaves
and frass, climbed
our stick and hung there.
Like a zippered bag crammed
with too many t-shirts.
Stayed put for hours,
just shifting its footing
now and then.

We moved it on to flowers later,
offering cow parsley,
apple blossom, anything
to encourage it to feed,
then in desperation sugared water,
which left sticky pools
on the table top darkened
with wing powder.

The moth didn’t budge.
For hours it clung to the same
flower head, rearranging
itself, pumping fluids
from one body part to another,
growing streamlined,
its wings slicked over its back
and as bright as if

such colours never existed
till now: this camel
and cream, the black
that in this light, at this angle,
was more a dusky green
lustred with gold –
or was it amber? – the hint
of scarlet underwing

inset like a gusset
that flashed suddenly
into prominence
as the Scarlet Tiger took off
from our jam jar of flowers
on the garden table, circled twice,
landed in the lilac tree,
then made its bid for the sky.