Thursday Poem


I'm reading about fireflies, remembering
the joy these tiny beetles have given me in fields
when I thought I was alone, and the first one came on
and then another.

By the shadows of wild carrots, in weeds,
on the bark of maples, they shine with cold light
after months, years without wings. Only nothing, hunger
in the sticky body, a tiny white groove in the earth,
sleeping and waking in darkness.

They wait until the end of their lives to glow
a sexual fire, a signal
so the female will know where the male is among
redolent grasses and runaway clover.
They come to their senses and die.
And then more lights flicker near the stone heaps
of ancient fences, over the ridges my shoes make at dusk.

How plain they were in the jam jar, brought in, examined
beneath the porcelain light in the kitchen. Grandmother
was not an old woman then, she turned the gold
lid with five straight fingers, all this excitement
over brown wings and a simple body. I'm thinking

about fireflies. The more I know of them,
the happier I am without wings or fire,
with the heat my body creates when I stand with my back
to the stars, wrists in shadow, knees chilled
by a cool wind. And lonely, I speak to
the flickering, white, umber, green
with a dark and human voice.

by Rita Gabis
from The Wild Fields;
Alice James Books, 1990