Butterfly Boy

A photo story inspired by the poem "Butterfly Boy" by Holly Painter.

The halls were all but silent.
A faint squeak of sneakers
greeted me at the door,
a sign read
visitors must report to the office
I could have been in any school in the country.

Telephone perched between shoulder and chin,
the secretary glanced casually in my direction,
continuing her percussive keyboard clicks
as if lives depended on it,
so I turned my attention to the artwork
adorning the school entrance.

The foyer,
filled with pink and blue traces
of splayed fingers on construction paper,
each child's name scratched haphazardly in crayon
on the coloured sheet he or she had been assigned,
I was met by the silent applause of kindergarteners
yet couldn't put a finger on why I felt unsettled.

Returning to the receptionist
I began to introduce myself,
but was quickly interrupted by two enthusiastic students
bouncing into the room,
attendance sheets gripped fiercely in their palms
holding onto their responsibility for dear life,
they grinned  widely as they handed her the papers
and she smiled back and offered them stickers as thanks.

The brown-haired girl and the brown-eyed boy
both reached for their prize,
and I watched as the boy's eyes 
drifted from his truck sticker
to the little girl's butterfly.

"Can I have that one instead?" he said,
almost inaudibly,
an uncertainty caught in his throat
and the way the secretary thrust the truck forward
I doubted for a second she had even heard him speak,
he repeated,
"Why can't I have a butterfly?'

"Butterflies are for girls" she said,
so strongly I thought maybe 
she had been fact checking this when I came in,
her conviction left both of us silent.
He accepted her ignorance and left,
his head hanging down towards the floor
no doubt heavy with the weight of the new knowledge
he possessed,
I wish I had said something.

To this day I imagine him,
returning home from school that night
dropping his backpack and naiveté at his bedroom door,
staring at the mason jars lining his bookshelves
that he had collected
for when he netted the most beautiful specimens,
he would have captured them in amazement
then released them when his kind heart reminded him
that they deserve to be free,
and shouldn't he?

Be free to love butterflies 
or anything else on this earth,
not cocooning his heart
against beautiful things
because the rules of pinks and blues 
choose what it is we can fall for.

My dear butterfly boy,
I hope wherever you are today
you have learned how to deal with people
with faces full of preconceived notions
masking as concern.
I hope you tell them
this is not the way things have to be,
I hope you live in a conservatory
surrounded by the symmetrical rainbowed bodies 
you think are gorgeous,
better yet,
I hope you wear your love of butterflies
proudly on your chest
the way other men slip on sweaters of sports teams,
and I hope if anyone questions
what is wrong with you,
that you return the question back 
like a package misdelivered and ask,

Why do we clip the wings
of our brown-haired girls and our brown-eyed boys,
why are the souls of those who love freely
crushed into insect dust beneath the soles of those 
who can't think outside the box?

My dear butterfly boy,
I hope that whatever you have bloomed into
is full of beauty
and that your heart still loves with no restrictions,
and most of all I hope that someday
a person like me could enter any school in the country
and the only answer  he'll receive
is "of course you can."


Holly painter is a spoken word artist from London Ontario.  She is passionate about sharing her stories, inspiring audiences and advocating for important causes through her poetry.  Holly is a certified teacher and public speaker who has spoken to over twenty-five thousand students in Ontario.  
To read more of Holly's inspiring poetry please visit her website www.hollypainterpoetry.com 

Thank you Holly for your inspiring words!