The Peppered Moths

by Jeanne Wagner


Natural selection is still at work in the peppered moth. As
predicted by the theory, the number of dark moths
is dropping as the forests become cleaner.

When the trees turned
dark, we turned dark too,

clung to the bared trunk,
heads almost kissing the bark.

Our mothers told us to blend in,
which was easy, we’d been

pale with piebald tendencies.
Afterward we were the speckled

grey of soot-dappled snow.
When the smoke vanished

and the trees came clean,
it was time to go light again.

Truth is, it took us years
to lose our old disguise,

to forget the way our fears
lay splayed and prone

like a novitiate taking her
final vows, suppliant, face

down. O, we fed them daily,
the divine appetites of birds,

their beaks plucking at that
hinge we call The Body.

Their craws stuffed with
the part that cringed

between those powdery,
camouflaged things that

let us rise, rise and flee.
We called them wings.

Jeanne Wagner is the author of four chapbooks and three full-length collections, her most recent, Everything Turns Into Something Else, was published in 2020 as runner-up for the Grayson Book Prize. She is the winner of the 2021 Joy Harjo Award and the 2022 Cloudbank Poetry Prize. She has work forthcoming in The Southern Review, Catamaran Literary Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review and The Raleigh Review.