Larkspur Press, 2000
The difference between the right word and almost
the right word is the difference between “lightning”
and “lightning-bug.”–Mark Twain
Bioluminescence is exactly the word
to describe this galaxy
of fireflies as I water,
at midnight, the Blackbells,
the rows of Silver Queen
loosening their golden tassels,
the small ruddy globes
of Sweet 100s. There’s no moon
nor hint of moon. No lightning,
no rain in weeks. Instead,
hundreds of fireflies send
their lusty code as far
as it will fly. Males strobe
the backyard, somersaulting
through the consummate air.
Each hopes to be aerobatically
irresistible. Each in return wants
to pull from the air the exact
pattern of flash he’s looking for,
an applause of sorts,
for his heart to pivot on . . .
Meanwhile, my Black Magic
zucchini are grateful for even
the most gratuitous attention;
candelabras of banana peppers
begin to spark and shine, and leaf
after holey cucumber leaf rises.
I wave bright arcs of water over
whatever I can reach. It’s all
I can offer, this benediction,
late summer in Kentucky as dry
as the exoskeleton peering down
from cracked scales of the maple.
Everything carrying whatever light
it can into the next tapering moment.
READING POETRY AT DUSK
Though the blackfly are still biting
I plan to sit in the yard as long
as I like. Sunshine ripples down
in slow waves, dragging back the smooth
pebbles of my breath and the breath
of this stray cat, tricked out in thick
scabs and brilliant orange fur, preening
on the picnic table. Some tiny mouth
pulls what it can from the bald spot
on my thigh, a human transfusion
I reach to itch. But then
the insect makes the last mistake
it will ever make. It lands on page 24
of Mary Oliver’s House of Light.
And when I snap the book shut
and open it again, there’s a perfect asterisk
after the line, The body of night opens.
I’m somehow pleased by this killer irony,
pleased how even the smallest bodies
can unknowingly align with context,
a black star now embedded in the poem.
The night begins its quiet crescendo
of falling; the stars announce themselves.
And I think, without remorse or desperation,
of my tombstone rising into some airy
future above what’s become of me.
As common as a thumb, a bookmark.