← Issue 8

Cabbage Worm Blues

by Rasheena Fountain

Your white wings flutter warm hellos and staccato reggae music strums.
Your white wings flutter warm hellos and staccato reggae music strums.
And when your white wings flutter warm goodbyes, you leave cabbage worm reflections of what I’ve become.

A:     Your white wings flutter warm hellos and staccato reggae music strums. Your wings are the strings, the air your strummer, and the sun that smiles on us both are adlibs from Jah.  My Android unjustly captures one brief encounter. Well, it captures you joining me one isolated morning in my makeshift asylum. You join me away from infected wind gusts that sent you beckoning signals my way, because maybe I need you. I might need you like hummingbirds need nectar and like tomato plants need wind. On somber pandemic mornings, where time moseys in space like tired snails, I sit on my patio across from potted plants: kale, Italian tomato, collard green, blueberry, and zucchini plants. And there you are in broad daylight—not hiding like my Anna’s or Rufous Hummingbird feeder visitors I have only seen in one shadowy, millisecond flash. I sit. You fly and plop on leaves. We admire. We share mask-less distant, breaths and admire big golden flowers rising from green leaves, small yellow buds appearing on fuzzy vines, and collards reaching messily toward the sky. And you like the collards, but the jagged sprouting kale is your favorite. I watch you admire the kale leaves, disappearing for periods underneath them. I admire them, too. We play hide-and-seek. You’re it. I pan my eyes until you pop up above the leaves like a silent Jack-in-the-box. We don’t tag each other in our game—we both know touching is not allowed. We’re aloof, but closer for the time being than most family and friends. You’ve joined my routine, or maybe I’ve joined yours.  

A:     Your white wings flutter warm hellos and staccato reggae music strums. Green dots appear like Chicken Pox blues on my dear, growing kale. These dots turn monotony into curiosity during the morning watering. My daughter Faith points out the small lumps on our kale babies. I am clueless, but you sly, little fella, you’ve stricken. Changes invade my patio garden. The Harvestmen that Faith calls daddy longlegs sit atop the corn seedlings, now only small specs poking out of the dried, red kernels in soil. White-crowned sparrows serenade me. Red spiders and worms I don’t recognize visit, too. I rarely have visitors, even before the pandemic and the garden—human or other. I’ve been quarantined for months—trying to create a normal that I can control. I yearn for seeds and plants and growth and days with others where the air doesn’t threaten. I ask hummingbirds to come—dangling that red plastic container of sugar water concoction and hope above the ground. And then you come uninvited and fill the voids and the terror. I see growth and glimpses of serenity and accomplishment: in the disappearing nectar in the feeder, in the sunflower blooms, and in the new heights. You come, and now, growth looks less than perfect. Trouble taints my perception. Change is rapid, unforgiving, ruthless. The kale leaves now wear green bumps and holes and chewed off jagged edges. My Android tells me that this is a sign of cabbage worms. I still don’t see them, only the symptoms and the holes—the daily wrecking. The threat often camouflages as a friend—at least that is what I had believed to my detriment. At first, you hid your visits like strangers on the same side of the street with masks. You laid eggs on my crop. We’ve admired, and you’ve plotted.

B:      And when your white wings flutter warm goodbyes, you leave cabbage worm reflections of what I’ve become. You poke sharp holes through framed hopes. You’re invasive like European starlings and blackberry bushes. Who knew, cabbage white butterfly, that you would steal my harvest for your offspring—that you’d take from mine? Faith first notices your green babies slithering; she lets out a skin-crawling yelp and backs away from the kale leaves. And I think you have gone too far—manipulating my vulnerability and scaring my young. Seeds in a pandemic are scarce. I’ve ordered seeds, N95 masks, and last bottles of Lysol and bleach. On Mother’s Day and through suspicious air, I braved a trip to the corner market for kale starter plants. And I had welcomed you like an old friend. I rebel against you, waging war, safely, with an organic oil mixture to conquer you. Your babies squirm and disperse and I smile as I spray. Then, I notice scattered pupa on the side panel above the potted plants surrounding my patio. I don’t feel so accomplished anymore. Your offspring in chrysalis is beautiful, and maybe I can relate—to you, the pupa, to the hope of new beginnings. I am playing a game of control. You were not privy to the game—to ownership in a society that names you a natural enemy and a pest. Man can be so unforgiving. You’ve shown me favor, pollinating my small patio garden and valuing my tiny ecosystem. I waged war on you in space where I dangle refuge above the concrete. I imagine that you are like me, doing your best in a system set up for your failure—a system so rigged and colonized and polluted. So, I choose chrysalis. Faith and I continue to water the kale, offering food as thanks and apology—to you, to the universe, to God. You only take kale and collards, and the disappearing crops begin to feel like morning sunshine. On walks, when I brave threatened air, I see you, white butterfly. I smile, speak to you, and wonder if you are one of the cabbage worms emerged from chrysalis after taking refuge with me. And I strive to be as resilient if and when I emerge.  


Rasheena Fountain is an essayist and poet who has been published in Hobart Pulp, Penumbra, Mountaineer Magazine, and more. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington Seattle, where she will  also be pursuing a doctorate degree in English in the fall.