The metaphor is familiar: two lightning bugs shudder in spark
after each other, their whole lineage based on this necessity
of meeting in the dark. But tonight the girl goes out
with her flashlight & holds it low to the ground,
flickers the beam as a female would in her flightlessness,
draws the males close. Try not to think her cruel—
yes, a handful of them don’t meet, but the field is still
full of brightness. There will be thousands of warm nights
like this one, millions of the beetles, this whole darkened face
of earth erupting in brief constellations. Wasn’t it Caravaggio
who powdered the flickering bodies
to glaze his canvas in desire-light, deadened? Last night
was so humid the air of the barn dampened
the swallows’ mud nest until it dropped from its rafter
& the nestlings spilled out. The girl, wandering, found them alive, softened
into the wet earth. She thinks all broken things are hers. She thinks she can save
anything. & why shouldn’t these ruffled bodies, so much lightness,
also be hungry for what glitters in the trees
as if willing? In the morning, she’ll wake to the birds’ stiff, empty bodies
& to survive this poem, what’s essential is to forgive her
for force-feeding the birds even after they had stopped begging.
Forgive her for not knowing the syrup of the firefly’s lit abdomen
is quick poison. Forgive me, please, for wanting
something beautiful to last
longer than it should.
Courtney Flerlage received her MFA in poetry from the University of Virginia. Her work has appeared in Narrative,The Adroit Journal, Ninth Letter, Poetry Northwest, Crab Orchard Review, Day One, Arkansas Review, and elsewhere.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.