Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Fireflies

(6-28/29-05, post for No Polar Coordinates. (Midnight))

I hit a firefly coming east on the Thruway. It hit the windshield, flared like a match, only green, and then faded and went out, leaving only a spot on the windshield. An ordinary bug spot. I felt bad, sad. Like hitting a butterfly. Like hitting a fairy. Taking some light from the world.

It reminded me of Keith telling me that when they were driving down river Road to visit me, Graham suddenly said he remembered our stopping to see the fireflies.

One night last summer, driving back from Loretto or somewhere with Keith and Graham, I remembered having earlier seen fireflies along River road, especially in one spot at the corner of the field by the hedgerow. Since Keith and Graham live in the city, and since I have never seen fireflies there, I thought they might enjoy an opportunity to see them. I suggested to Keith that we stop. We pulled to the side of the road and Keith turned off the headlights. We sat and watched. The fields, tall grass and hedgerows sparkled with fireflies, like winged and wild stars. Above in the sky, the constellations moved too, but so slowly, we couldn't see the motion.

"Do you see the fireflies Graham?" I asked, "Aren't they pretty?"

"Yeah," he said, but he didn't sound very excited. I was disappointed, at the time, and thrilled later that he'd remembered and commented about it.

It seems there are fewer fireflies than there used to be. One night a couple weeks ago, I saw one at my house. One is not enough. If there aren't at least two, there won't be more.

But in the fields out in countryside, there are still fireflies. Maybe I just don't get out in the summer fields at night enough. Perhaps I need to go and count them, see if there are as many.

Fireflies seem magical to me because of their ability to create light. I've read about the scientific principles behind bioluminescence, but it doesn't erase the magic. Light is miraculous.

Tonight, coming home through highway construction, I came upon a truck with a huge globe of light. Several men wearing masks were ripping apart the pavement and dust and dirt filled the air. It cascaded away in a fountain, lit by the strange globe of light. I wished I could have set up a tripod and recorded the scene. But even more, I wished I hadn't hit the firefly.

I once wrote a poem about fireflies. It is like a fable; I don't know if I got the idea somewhere or made it up out of whole cloth. I thought I was making it up, but I’m never 100% sure.

How the First Mother Brought Winged Stars to Earth

The first mother slept in the shadows of her mud hut

and the people forgot her. They forgot the stories, forgot

how the first mother had come from the sky and given birth

to the mothers of the first people. The people hunted

in the forests and prairies, fished in the streams, and sang

under the stars until the first clouds were born of the mother

sea. The first clouds grew and grew and covered the stars,

weeping on and off for more than all the fingers and toes of days.

The first people caught the sadness of clouds, and as the clouds

wept, the people wept with them. Sadness flooded the first mother’s

dreams. Though the first mother was ancient and shrunken,

she was spry in dreams. She danced in the dream shadows

of her hut into a dream of star country. She dreamed herself

winged. The first mother flew among the stars. Gathered

great flocks of them into the nets of her wings. Rose singing

from her dreams. And in the darkness of the nadir

the first mother came to the door of her hut. Singing,

the first mother called the people from their shelters to gather

around her. She opened her hands, and released flying stars.

Shining and twinkling, they dispersed into the tall grass

and wildflowers. The people gasped, then laughed, then sang

again. Sang and sang. Now, the first mother told them,

as long as the nights are warm, the grass grows tall, the air

is kept sweet and clean, and the stories are told and retold,

children, even those who have forgotten me, will have stars.

Fireflies, the first mother called them. On clear nights,

the first mother promised stars above and stars below.

Even on cloudy nights, when the first people see fireflies,

they remember the stories; they remember to sing.

~

[Post Written in the Emergency Room at St. Joseph's Hospital at my Mother's bedside.]

3 comments:

Erin said...

I was happy to see that there are fireflies here in this neighborhood, especially down near the stream that runs through it. They always make me happy too.

sara said...

Amazingly enough, we have a few fireflies here in the city where I live. We see them off the porch at night, twinkling away. Nowhere near as many as I remember from childhood, but of course I wasn't in the city then either.

I really like how your poem taps into that archetypical magic feeling the fireflies seem to evoke in all of us. The allusions to genetic memory.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I am so pleased that you both can see fireflies where you live and that you are enjoying them. I loved them so much as a child and still really enjoy them! Thank you for the interesting comment on the poem. XOX :-)