Metamorphoses

by Christian Teresi

The Naga were headhunters, but wrote butterfly
On the parched reliefs of temples, and in manuscripts born
By monastics that knew anything meaningful is without speaking.

They wrote butterfly to tell you who their ancestors were.
When they stopped cutting the heads off missionaries they started
To care about clothes. Some think the Naga are not Naga

If they cannot hunt heads. Some Naga still believe
In weretigers who travel to the spirit world to speak
With the dead, which is to say they speak with butterflies.

The Naga wrote butterfly, and I still know what they mean.
After enough time, no one remember who anyone was.
Butterflies as the reincarnation of dead warriors to some,

Or foretell imminent evil to others. The Naga know butterflies
Conjoined to the air as silence is the most meaningful prayer.
These ancient ways are gone, but they show us something

Of what they were at least for now. In the beginning,
There was the way wings sigh and ease down without kneeling.
There was nectar and the migration from one belief to another.