The Good Ancestor

Giovanna Speciale, 2021

The Good Ancestor

Butterfly specimens compressed between

two sheets of glass whose rich precise colours

last blurred the sky over a hundred years ago

Caught in a net then suffocated then preserved

Wings spread like a breath never exhaled

My Great Uncle John, whose neat copperplate identified

the species of each butterfly was himself caught in a net

made of little knots of patriotism and a distended mesh of duty

Preserved only as a name to explain my Grandma’s

silence about the years after Passchendaele

I’m told I should feel proud of my Great Uncle John:

this good ancestor, who did what he was told

But, for all the poppies and smart salutes, they were

a generation duped, who obediently marched into

machine gun fire. Their legacy a century of war

What will they say of me and my generation?

We saw the salvos loaded each with neat labels such as

“Climate change” “Habitat destruction”, “Overfishing”

Over the top we march unblinking into hail of floods, bushfires and hurricanes. We fly like moths to a flame.

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