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THE SEARCH FOR LOST LIVES
by James Tate

I was chasing this blue butterfly down
the road when a car came by and clipped me.
It was nothing serious, but it angered me and
I turned around and cursed the driver who didn’t
even slow down to see if I was hurt. Then I
returned my attention to the butterfly which
was nowhere to be seen. One of the Doubleday
girls came running up the street with her toy
poodle toward me. I stopped her and asked,
“Have you seen a blue butterfly around here?”
“It’s down near that birch tree near Grandpa’s,”
she said. “Thanks,” I said, and walked briskly
toward the tree. It was fluttering from flower
to flower in Mr. Doubleday’s extensive garden,
a celestial blueness to soothe the weary heart.
I didn’t know what I was doing there. I certain-
ly didn’t want to capture it. It was like
something I had known in another life, even if
it was only in a dream, I wanted to confirm it.
I was a blind beggar on the streets of Cordoba
when I first saw it, and now, again it was here.
***
“The Search for Lost Lives” appears in James Tate’s collection Return to the City of White Donkeys by James Tate (Ecco Press, 2004), available at Amazon.com.

Image: “Reve de Papillon” (Butterfly’s Dream, detail) by Variance Collections, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Tate’s many poetry collections include The Ghost Soldiers (2008); Worshipful Company of Fletchers (1994), National Book Award winner; Selected Poems (1991), winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award; Distance from Loved Ones (1990); Constant Defender (1983); Viper Jazz (1976); and The Oblivion Ha-Ha (1970). Tate’s honors include an Academy of American Poets chancellorship, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Poetry, the Wallace Stevens Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. (Source: poetryfoundation.org)