Photuris Lucicrescens

by Lois Marie Harrod


Caravaggio may have used a powder of dried fireflies to create a photosensitive
mixture in his uniquely lit paintings
.

In the loitering dusk
the lightning bugs begin
their dart and dwindle
as if small constellations

were taking up galaxies
in our ant-ridden peonies.
See how they swirl through
the waves of grass

to the bird bath
where they descend.
Tonight let us call our constellation
Ulysses and Penelope,

the way it flickers off
like love and returns
as lingering. Of course,
we both know it is the males

who wander, the females
who weave lawnward.
Which is best, you ask,
to roam or to remain?

We talk in the fickle light
of the sister who stayed
when she should have left,
of the irresolute boy

who left our daughter,
so much shimmering into dark,
and then of our stolid selves,
how we have stuck it out.

I know if you left me,
I wouldn’t wait twenty summers

for your return though
I can imagine those who do,

how one more day hangs on
to the next until decades
glisten into dawn,
how these pale green stars

keep time quiet
though the glimmer
fades fast from the skin,
the face.

Here is my photo when I was 14,
when I knew a boy
who crushed a hundred fireflies
and smeared them on his thighs.

Sometimes I imagine
him reappearing
in the teasel
down by the fence

though rumor has it
he died of cancer
several years ago,
that kind of lingering.

I learned long ago
not to cup my hands
around the glittering, not
to drown gleam in glass jars.

I think Penelope
was shocked when she saw
his quivering torso
strut into her mirror.

She must have said to him
I thought you were dead–no,
I thought you were your mother,
as I keep seeing my mother’s face

in photographs of my sisters,
as I suppose
they see their mother
muted in me

though I have always thought
I look like my father,
one like you who did not wander
and did not weep.


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