Where Saturniides Fall Into the Sky

by Rosanne Griffeth

The moth collection decorated every surface of her childhood home, growing each year in a march of glassed-in shadowboxes. The porch light glowed into the night, every night, waiting for the moths. Silk moths, the size of bats, arrived beating against the screens. They sounded desperate to get inside, like something much bigger chased them. Something big enough to overpower everything, eating up the night.

Her father fancied himself a lepidopterist, but he wasn't interested in those narrow-bodied creatures flitting through sunlight. She grew up nurtured in darkness, beating against her own screens, drawn to her own irresistible lights. Forced to delay her first year of college, she cried bitterly that she'd never escape this backwater spot, this smear in the road. She'd never find love in this dark place. He told her of the Saturnaiidae females, and how they stayed near where they emerged, waiting for their mate.

"And then what do they do, Daddy? What if they emerge and no one's there? Tell me what the damn moths do when no one comes?"

He slipped a pinned body into the board, suspended in a box of moist peat to relax the corpse. Later he would spread the dead wings, the lovely dead wings. "Well, she flies off and finds her mate. That's what she does. But the eggs she lays are barren."

She left that place, leaving her father with his pins and boxes, acetone and peat, tools of the trade for turning living bits of fat and jeweled powder into something beautiful, dead and eternal.

She ignored his wishes. He had wanted to be cremated, but she didn't think it fair. At the viewing, she'd looked into his casket at his painted cheeks, knowing the embalming had taken place, just as he had defatted the corpses of thousands of moths, suspending them in three washes of acetone, each progressively turning a lighter shade of yellow. She knew the trocar had pierced him as surely as his #9 pins had skewered a Rosy Maple Moth. No one, not even her lover at her side, heard her whisper into his ear, "See Daddy? Now you'll stay just like this for a long, long time."

The pasture above the house with its high, close-cropped hill, was nearer to the sky. She took her lover there that night and they lay on their backs, falling into the stars. She told him that some people thought a female moth was called a "myth", something that should be true but isn't.

She told the lover of the Tulip Tree Silk Moths, the size of bats, and how when they mate, they stayed joined for an hour. The Tulip Tree Silk Moth only lives a week after it ecloses, so that's quite a long time in moth years. They flew together for that hour, joined. Their entire purpose, that one mating.

Let's do that, she told him. Let's do that right here and be the Saturniides falling into the stars. Falling while we live and know we are beautiful.

Rosanne Griffeth lives on the verge of the GSM National Park in east Tennessee. She is published in several online and print journals and writes primarily about Appalachian culture. A former film industry professional, she now raises dairy goats, farms and documents Southern mountain life. She also likes making cheese and soap. She is the blogger behind The Smokey Mountain Breakdown.