Swallowtail: the making of a haiku

spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

I found this photo in my camera when I went to download my Stockholm airport photos. I took it in late August, I think. There’s a spicebush (Lindera benzoin) next to my front door, and the fact that this spicebush swallowtail caterpillar was now climbing the storm door suggests it was in its last instar and looking for a place to pupate. The fake eye-spots on its butt are of course evolution’s way of protecting it from predators (mostly birds).

I got to thinking about the photo in the shower this morning. Perhaps I could post it to my sadly neglected Woodrat photohaiku blog? Then my mind wandered to certain people — you know the type I’m sure — and I came up with:

big fake eyes
your real gaze is in the glass
poor caterpillar

Not bad, but “glass” was too ambivalent (it could mean a drink), while “mirror” would be a little too much (especially given the final “r” sounds of “poor” and “caterpillar”). And what was supposed to be a sympathetic final line just sounded condescending, an insult compounding the injury of anthropomorphism.

where to pupate?
the caterpillar’s own green
repels her now

I wasn’t dissatisfied with this, either, but it seemed altogether too cerebral for a proper haiku. I just wasn’t ready to accept that I couldn’t pack a bit of nature education into (approximately) 17 syllables. This despite the obvious fact that the species name itself was much too long to fit.

big fake eyes
the poor caterpillar’s
only defense

The more I pondered it, the more laden with significance this caterpillar became — poor thing, indeed! I had strayed pretty far from the spirit of haiku, but who cares? I was having fun.

big fake eyes
searching for a quiet spot
to don black wings

This semi-surrealist take would be, if nothing else, a good fit for the Halloween season, I thought. Why not?

I was tired; I had gotten up after only four hours of sleep so I could make bread this morning. I caught myself staring.

big fake stare
the caterpillar is tired
of being a caterpillar

And that, for better or worse, is the one I went with. Spontaneous insights are damn hard work sometimes.

4 Comments


  1. Thanks for the story behind, I found that really nice to follow you there

    the pic is great and I agree with both of you. There is something almost cheeky about that line which makes it really good

    Reply

    1. Thanks! It’s funny that the moment I stopped thinking in terms of others I was able to reach some sort of authentic empathy.

      Reply

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