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Elisabeth M. Priest

When my husband and I first moved to the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area eight years ago, we had no plans to settle here. But I've discovered that the heart sometimes puts down roots where we least expect it. While living here I've gotten my master's degree in theology, begun teaching church history, and most importantly of all, given birth to my daughter, now three years old. Through all of these experiences, reading and writing stories and poems has remained a happy constant in my life. Stories and poems are two of the most gracious ways that the Lord nourishes those heart roots.

"Alphabet Angels" is a poem that grew out of my encounter with a story (accompanied by beautiful photographs) about a man who had searched for and discovered all 26 letters of the alphabet on butterfly wings. I discovered this story on the internet while searching for alphabet resources for my very young daughter, who was just beginning to learn her letters. Most of the details in the poem are my own imagined "filling in" of the story skeleton that inspired me. The only detail I think I actually transferred from the story was that "f" was the first letter the alphabet hunter noticed. I tried to imagine what might have inspired commitment to such a quest, and in the process I found myself imaginging a prayerful longing for beauty and transcendence.

I have often been inspired to imaginative poetry by brief journalistic narratives or photographs. Sometimes I have read only a photograph caption, or at most, a few paragrahs in a news story. But I find myself wanting to "complete" the story, think through heart motivations, imagine possible meanings behind someone else's dreams and daring. This mixing of narrative fiction and poetry is one of my favorite modes of expression.

Alphabet Angels

The first time
he bent over the butterfly wing
and saw traced there
a fine, feathery "f"
he wondered if someone
was sending a message.
The silvery letter glittered
like an embroidered star.
Look here, it gleamed,
take in, notice the small
ordinary manuscript
on which the graces of the world
are penned.

He began to pay attention
to wing-beats and flutters.
Like some watch birds,
and others collect books
or stamps, he became an avid
reader of wings,
holding his breath
to discover what new
communication might be
encoded in swirls
and hovering splotches.

Here's a splendid "s"
a tender "t," an elegant "e,"
an iridescent "i."
Some so obvious, others
pale, half-hidden,
so that only true love
can uncover lace,
leaf-veins, lattice-work "l's."

This then, the ambition
and dream,
to find a fragile primer,
twenty-six beauteous
butterflies,
miniature alphabet angels,
whose swooping tissue—
thin bodies might spell out
anything.
Anything at all.

Copyright ©2005 by Elisabeth M. Priest