Dusk to Dawn: an ephemeral love story

Updated: May 22, 2019

by José Olivarez and Krissa Skogen





The following are a series of poems written and performed by poet José Olivarez and scientist Krissa Skogen. These poems were written as part of Experimental Words, a project that pairs poets and scientists to create spoken word pieces. The first Experimental Words in North America took place last year at Chicago Botanic Garden. Watch a clip from their performance:




The poems describe the meeting of an evening primrose flower with its hawkmoth (Hyles lineata) pollinator. Evening primrose flowers open at dusk and are pollinated by hawkmoths, which are attracted by the sweet fragrance produced by white flowers. The moths can fly long distances and are on the search for sugar-rich nectar, all under the cover of night.


1. My name is Evening Primrose


my name is evening primrose & maybe you think that’s fancy,

but really there’s a whole mess of us out there. primrose

is a nice way of saying common folk & if you know common folk

who work & scrap & have ungrateful kids who move away &

never visit, then maybe you also know that we like to have a good time.

evening primrose means the brightest lights, the cheapest gin,

means everyone free before midnight, & if you know my city,

you know we dance hard, we sway till late like the wind is

trying to uproot us, my name is evening primrose which means

don’t bother me while i sleep, when i dream of neon nights,

evening primrose is a pretty word, so is nectar, the way it sounds

like honey if i say it sweetly enough, nectar is a nice word

for cheap trick, a polite word for always getting left, maybe

you think primrose is a sad name, but i don’t care what you think,

primrose is my name, its my mom’s name, it’s my grandma’s name,

it means drunkest night, strongest love, ephemeral & eternal


2. Hawkmoth


My name is the white-lined sphynx moth. Over-educated folks call me Hyles lineata.

You confuse me for that scrappy brown moth that flitters and fizzes on your summertime porch light, that you so loathe.

You confuse me for a beautiful hummingbird, you think I’m magical until you realize that I’m no bird, just a moth. Not a bee, not a butterfly, not a bird.

You think all pollinators fly when the sun shines; you think we are all diurnal.

You don’t know just how important we crepuscular creatures are, that there’s a lot that goes on from dusk to dawn.

You got me all wrong. You don’t know me at all.

I am big, I am brave. I am beautiful and strong. I am kind, I mean no harm.

I am a long-haul trucker.

I fly miles and miles and miles, across the open plains, over the amber waves, between the purple mountains majesty.

I’m everywhere from Canada to Mexico, and from Mexico to Central America.

I don’t stay longer than one night in any one place; I don’t stop or slow for much.

I fly into the wind, following a fleeting plume of sweet smells.

Like others who work long shifts into the night, I like my cocktails.

Gin infused with Earl Gray tea, jasmine, green apples.

The bouquet of fragrance fills the air, whispers to me and I heed the call.

Like billboards in the night, advertising a place to pause, a place to refuel before my journey continues.

From a distance, the glittering white lights bounce the moonlight back to me, showing me the way.

I am eternal but my route, my stay, they are ephemeral.


3. Meeting


Ephemeral

my love is

changing & gone

hiding in plain sight

like a new moon

don’t let your eyes fool you

my love pollinates

imagine a love like that

a love that travels and grows

wherever it is planted

my love stays

flicking its antennae toward

the loudest floral bouquet

with no home training

my love slurps loudly & unapologetically

if every hour is drenched in honey

if every kiss must end

give me the longest goodbye

my love is a search for

eternal


4. Departing


eternal

my love is a search for

the longest goodbye

if every kiss must end

if every hour is drenched in honey

my love slurps loudly & unapologetically

with no home training

the loudest floral bouquet

flicking its antennae toward

my love stays

wherever it is planted

a love that travels and grows

imagine a love like that

my love pollinates

don’t let your eyes fool you

like a new moon

hiding in plain sight

changing & gone

my love is

ephemeral


Did you notice anything interesting about poems 3 and 4?





José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants. His debut book of poems, Citizen Illegal, was a finalist for the PEN/ Jean Stein Award and a winner of the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Poetry Prize.


Krissa Skogen is an Associate Conservation Scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden and an adjunct professor in the program in Plant Biology and Conservation at Northwestern University.


#Poetry

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