on moths, stories, and school.

There are moths that feed on the tears of birds.

I have not been able to shake this sentence since Elena Tartaglia, the co-founder of National Moth Week, put it in my head while discussing the butterfly’s less glamorous cousins on Science Friday. I have told myself this fact perhaps a thousand times since I heard it.

There are moths that feed on the tears of birds.

It is an earworm, a fragment of a song that doesn’t exist but plays itself out in my head just the same.

I went to Wikipedia to learn their name: Hemiceratoides hieroglyphica– a mouthful, a name to roll around your teeth, to purse your lips against.

I started my PhD program this week, walked the campus for day after day of orientation. And as excited as I am, as wonderful and smart and funny as everyone I have met has been, as beautiful as my new, little campus is, what I kept coming back to is this: there are moths that feed on the tears of birds

and deer

and crocodiles.

Oh my.

It sounds like magic. Like horror. Like fantasy. Like beauty.

It sounds like a story.

That’s why I quit my job to go back to school, why I turned my back on everything familiar and secure. I have turned my little family’s lives upside down for the stories. And this is how they often start for me.

Not long ago, a moth landed on my backdoor and didn’t flinch when I put my palm to the pane between us. Its wingspan far outstretched my hand so that I felt small, somehow. Huge and brown and set against the night, it looked prehistoric, a sepia photograph into the past, nothing like the butterflies that flit through the clover taking over my backyard. Less and more beautiful. Simple. Strange.

Despite the fact that we barely notice them, moths are everywhere. There are somewhere between 150,000 and 250,000 species, most of them appearing long after we curl onto our couches for our evening Netflix binge. But whether we look or not, they are there and their diversity is amazing.

The characters I am most in love with are not the butterflies, not the ones with color and flash, not the ones who soar. They are the moths. Less and more beautiful. Simple. Strange. They are the ones with the sentences that stick in your head, the ones you play over and over for yourself. They are modeled after the people you may not see, but they are there and they are diverse.

And I hope for the next three or four years, they will be my life, these characters so much like moths.



by Leigh Camacho Rourks

Leigh Camacho Rourks is the managing editor for Rougarou, a journal of literature and arts out of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where she is pursuing her PhD. This year, her short story “Moon Trees” was awarded the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award and her story “Pinched Magnolias” received the Robert Watson Literary Review Prize in Fiction. Her work has appeared in a number of journals including Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Pank, and Greensboro Review.

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