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Lantern Fly on a Sweetgum Trunk

by Terence Culleton

[W]hat was expected of heaven or fear’d of hell, are now consumed,
Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it.

                                                                             —Walt Whitman, “I Sing the Body Electric”

Nobody could quite love the lantern fly—
well, maybe Walt, wrestler with trees, who’d find
himself in one, reflected in its eye,
his passion for the fallen world as blind
as it was deep, the function of a mind

that had unlearned much it had proven wrong
about itself, so it could know the song
that was itself—was also anything
his eye or “I” might meet rambling along
at large, finding the world a place to sing

about, no matter what.—This thing has no
song but its own life, being driven, as
the sweetgum is (whose sap’s begun to flow),
sunward, skyward—only really has
sap-craving in it, plus the crimson raz-

mataz sub-wing it can’t see there or think
about, so can’t think itself toxic. Crowds
of them turn trees grey-yellow, make them stink
of rancid honeydew mold forming clouds
that roil and fan out down the trunks like shrouds—

and it could be this thing’s figurative
of death, though like Walt healthy—beautiful
when it spreads out its wings seeming to give
its colors to the sky—ungovernable
as life itself, having its life to live.

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A former Bucks County (PA) Poet Laureate, multiple Pushcart nominee, and finalist in THE NATION/POETRY contest, the Maria Faust International Sonnet Contest, and the Bay Harbor Book Prize contest, Terry Culleton reads widely throughout the Philadelphia area, as well as in northeastern Pennsylvania, New York, and New England. He has published poems in a variety of reviews and journals both in the U.S. and the U.K., and has appeared on TV and radio shows in the Philadelphia area, New York City, and nationally on NPR’s Family Matters and Radio Times. Terry’s third volume of poetry, a collection of sonnets entitled A Tree and Gone, is now out through Future Cycle Press and has been featured on the New York Review of Books Independent Press “New Releases” list. It’s available at or through his website:, where you can read his blogs, catch up on his breathlessly exciting life as a writer, and even purchase his other two books, A Communion of Saints and Eternal Life.

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