Poetry and Mycelium

 In Resources

Excerpted from my January 2024 newsletter. 


In November I had the opportunity to attend the opening of The Ohana Center for Child and Adolescent Behavior Health in Monterey, California. I was invited to write a poem that would appear on the wall of a meditation room in the building. I’d written the first couple of lines of “Chrysalis” years ago and had a general idea of the emotional territory I wanted to cover in the poem, but I kept getting stuck. I returned to the draft for this project. As I worked on the poem, I thought about words that would have been helpful for me to hear as a teen. And I thought, too, about the youth who might encounter the poem, imagining I was speaking directly to the about the youth who might encounter the poem, imagining I was speaking directly to them.


One day the caterpillar forms a chrysalis,
waits a while, becomes butterfly.

They told us this much: to wait
for chitin to split, for the emergence
of dazzling colors and pumping wings.

But they never talked about
what really happened inside:
how the caterpillar’s whole body
how for a time
there is nothing but soupy liquid,
butterfly goo, formless but for the rigid purse holding it in midair.

And no one told us, either,
that when the caterpillar was born,
while it grew and crawled along,
a few cells called
already held instructions for what to build
when it came time for another body.
Here, the shining eye, the scaled wings.

Let me remind you about
the power of sticking around.
If you feel shapeless and scared,
imagine yourself in that tiny,
thin-walled shell, whistling in the dark,
some part of you already knowing the way


There have been several times in my life when I’ve been “butterfly goo”–– in a phase of seismic shifts in my internal world or my external circumstances (or both). These times have been uncomfortable. Like the “soupy liquid” of cells that are no longer caterpillar and not yet butterfly, I was no longer my old self but wasn’t yet a new self, either. Since first coming across the fact that caterpillar’s bodies go through a full dissolution in the process of metamorphosis, I’ve felt more empathy for myself in times of massive internal or external change, and more trusting that I’ll emerge on the other end of things. It’s helped, too, to tell myself “It’s OK. You’re butterfly goo. It makes sense that you’re feeling weird.” I hope “Chrysalis” offers you some empathy for yourself, too.


Spotted around the yard: Mycelium

Doing some digging in the yard, I saw tiny white threads connecting dirt and a small chunk of wood. Mycelium has always seemed so magical to me: threads of fungi woven through dirt and wood and leaves, connecting to tree roots, passing on nutrients and water between living beings, quietly engaged the alchemy of decomposition. Whenever I think about mycelium I feel buoyed by the fact that change is happening under the dirt, invisible but reliable.

What changes are going on in your world, either in your personal life or in your immediate surroundings? Have you had a “butterfly goo” phase? What helped you to make it through? I’d love to hear from you.

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