Waiting for Dawn atop Butterfly Mountain

A dilapidated lepidopteran
dying atop The Mountain of Butterflies
holds out her wings to the darkness — wings as thin
as the mist that swirls beneath monsoonal skies —

and pictures the tea farm women, who often glow
like painted sawtooths dotting the plantation;
and, wallowing in the Mahaweli’s flow,
trumpeting in carefree conversation,

elephants plashing, washing away all worry.
Unlike them, she’s alone here on this rock,
a decent rock on which to dream. No hurry
to flee the fleeting memories that flock

like the birds of Sinharaja: the cunning jackal,
the whistling thrush, the fish in every lake
(which lure the hungry to come with boats and tackle
and float on magic molecules that slake

the roots of rice), the din of Devon Falls
reverberating through a green expanse
where a muntjac barks, a magpie calls and calls,
and footsteps crack the chrysalis of her trance —

men climbing toward her haven. Soon the sun
will oust the night. Slowly she beats her wings,
wings like frozen wood as, one by one,
they gain the hilltop, quicker as someone sings

a hymn to dawn, then darts away as a bell
blossoms like an orchid on the height
and, rising with the most resounding knell,
fades like the constellations at first light.

Note: The title alludes to a mountain in south central Sri Lanka, rising to 7,359 feet (2,243 m), which is variously known as Adam’s Peak (the place where Adam first set foot on earth after being cast out of heaven), Sri Pada (Sacred Footprint, left by the Buddha as he headed toward paradise), or perhaps most poetically as Samanalakande (Butterfly Mountain; where butterflies go to die). Some believe the huge “footprint” crowning the peak to be that of St. Thomas, the early apostle of India, or even of Lord Shiva.



Great Blue Heron

Stock-still, in perfect discipline,
beak like a saber, thighs as thin
as summer cattail reeds, he’s drawn
to faintest flash of scale or fin.

He’s mindful of all goings-on,
and spots a movement, whereupon
he strikes the dinner plate near shore.
His neck unbends. The fish is gone.

It slipped down whole. And now, once more,
he stands en garde, as if at war,
bearing his sword, a feathered knight,
for other things he’d love to gore.

Then off he flies through what will fight
whatever aims to reach a height
that even eagles seldom win,
and he is lost in cumu-light.


Skunk Cabbage: The First Flowers of Spring

Before the thawing of the snow,
before the rills and freshets flow,
I’ll generate an urgent heat,
draw a breath of swamp mist, greet
late winter’s quietude, and grow.

My spathe will reek like a long-dead doe,
attracting bees and flesh-flies. Oh,
I’ll warm their wings and frozen feet
before the thaw!

While they, with buoyant blitheness, strow
my pollen, roots will spread below
the mud, brown leaves, and rimy sheet,
and cling like fingers in concrete.
No petals? Still, I’ll steal the show
before the thaw!


Martin Elster, author of There’s a Dog in the Heavens!, serves as percussionist for the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and is a composer; his poetry has appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies.

Featured Image: “Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka from the bottom” by Bourgeois.

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5 Responses

    • Martin Elster

      Thanks, Ralph! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I love watching great blue herons. Such splendid birds!

      All the best,

  1. Siham Karami

    Lovely! My favorite is Butterfly Mountain. “A delapidated lepidopteran”– won’t forget that one. Nice notes too about the mountain.

    • Martin Elster

      Thanks, Siham! I’m happy you enjoyed that one. It was a fun piece to write and I’m glad it found a home here!

      All the best,


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