Book review: If There Is a Butterfly That Drinks Tears, Natalie Damjanovich-Napoleon

A poetry collection that meditates on the complexities of motherhood.
If there is a butterfly that drinks tears. on the left is an author's shot of a woman with short brown hair dressed in black and holding her arm in front of her. There is a blue and green backdrop. On the right is a book cover with an abstract pale image of a vertical line and large grey dot.

The second full-length poetry collection from Natalie Damjanovich-Napoleon seeks to explore the dualities present within the poet’s experience of motherhood. If There Is a Butterfly That Drinks Tears employs a variety of poetic techniques to build the collection: shifting between prose poetry, sestina, ekphrasis and erasure to consider its subjects.

Damjanovich-Napoleon’s focus shifts between elements of internality and externality throughout the course of this volume: feelings of corporeality and disembodiment bleed into one another as she navigates prenatal and postnatal life, attempting to capture these experiences on the page.

Situated at the heart of the volume, the collection’s title poem hovers across two pages. The metaphor central to ‘If There Is a Butterfly That Drinks Tears’ expands to encompass the broader societal implications, touching on themes of anger, understanding and the struggle to remember one’s true nature amid life’s tumultuous transformations.

Through its tone, the poem serves as a stark commentary on the fragility of both the natural world and human relationships. The speaker watches with her child as they ‘observe the translucent veil between / two worlds, the pulse of the heartbeat, the stained / glass window outline of wings’. The metaphorical resonance of butterfly and its tears takes on a haunting significance against the backdrop of rising walls and environmental degradation. The lines deftly enjamb between the innocence of a child’s curiosity and the harsh reality of a chrysalis shattered by heedless play.

In each poem that forms If There Is a Butterfly That Drinks Tears, there is a sense of duality: a push-pull between strength and fragility. In one poem, the speaker feels as vulnerable ‘as a teacup with a broken handle … as a mother holding her newborn for the first time’.

Some of the poems that emerge centre themselves from the epicentre of the US’s seismic social upheaval of the 2010s, navigating the shift from the Obama Administration to the political fervour stoked by Trump. These verses encapsulate a nation caught in the crossfire, where Obama’s calls for unity collide head-on with his successor’s unapologetic embrace of exclusion – all caught in the crossfire of gun violence. The collection alludes starkly to the tumultuous sociopolitical landscape, slicing through the contradictions and tensions that define the US’s contemporary narrative.

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In If There Is a Butterfly That Drinks Tears, Damjanovich-Napoleon weaves the personal with the political: the result is a volume that feels best captured by one of the closing lines of her poem ‘Born of Woman’: ‘bodied, disembodied; we are forever unfolding in forward motion’. It is this push, this sense of motion, that moves this collection towards its readers.

If There Is a Butterfly That Drinks Tears, Natalie Damjanovich-Napoleon 
Publisher: Gazebo Books
ISBN: 9780645633757
Pages: 152pp
Publication Date: 1 September 2023
RRP: $24.99

Ellie Fisher is an emerging poet, reviewer, and lyric essayist. She holds First Class Honours in Creative Writing from The University of Western Australia. Ellie's creative work has appeared in Westerly Magazine, Swim Meet Mag, Aniko Magazine, Gems Zine, and Pulch Mag, amongst others.