Poem: Milkweed Melancholia

chalcid with poem (1)

This poem was published in the December 2019 edition of Live Ideas. View it here.

Artist Reflection

When I first began to write Milkweed Melancholia, all I had was an idea of the hopeless feelings I wanted to communicate. Namely, feeling like a shell of what you could have been because of past trauma and that trauma being ever-present and inescapable. A major struggle for many victims of abuse, myself included, is a nagging worry that they’ll never be who they could have been if those things hadn’t happened. Even if the worry is unfounded, and the survivor emerged stronger, it’s easy to slip back into a self-destructive pattern of thoughts. Recovery isn’t a straight path. It’s different for everyone, and sometimes the road bends, spins, spirals, and causes you to backtrack on months of progress and healing. Sometimes, the lingering effects of a traumatic event can feel as though you are being eaten alive by something you have no possibility of escaping from.

I thought a good way to illustrate this feeling would be the relationship between a monarch and a parasitic wasp. Certain species of chalcid wasps will stalk monarch caterpillars and wait for them to form their chrysalis. Once the caterpillar has formed its chrysalis, chalcids will swoop in and lay eggs in the chrysalis while it is still soft. There is nothing that the caterpillar can do to defend itself in this state. The chalcid larvae will eventually hatch and eat the monarch alive. Instead of a monarch emerging, chalcids will pour out of small holes in the chrysalis and leave the empty chrysalis as a reminder of something that could have been but was not.

As a whole, Milkweed Melancholia is a grim reflection of the impact trauma has had on my life and the lives of many others. I worry that my past has left me a broken reminder of what I could have been in the same way that the wasps left the chrysalis, and similar to an internal parasite, trauma can seem at times to be virtually inescapable. Whether trauma resurfaces as a silent grimace or a panic attack between the aisles of a grocery store, it can make you feel hopeless, helpless, and as if it is eating away at you from the inside out.

Image Credit: Madison Leirer