The fireflies are back. Last summer they were a rare sighting, the occasional sad lone light, blinking on and off like a distress signal. But this year they’re out in force, drifting above the wild flower field, rising through the trees and above, to move across the path of the stars. Their bioluminesence is used to attract mates — “I’m here, where are you?” —not unlike teenagers carrying cell phones. And, like so much else about summer, they’re magical with memories of childhood: the jar full of them, glowing in the canvasy heat of a pup tent, the first night I ever slept out-of-doors.

Here’s a poem with fireflies in the first line, by the contemporary American poet Mark Doty. I love how, in his seemingly off-handed, colloquial way (“sparklamps in the grass”) he manages to say so much.

Deep Lane

by Mark Doty

June 23rd, evening of the first fireflies,
we’re walking in the cemetery down the road,
and I look up from my distracted study of whatever,

an unfocused gaze somewhere a few feet in front of my shoes,

and see that Ned has run on ahead
with the champagne plume of his tail held especially high,
his head erect,

which is often a sign that he has something he believes he is not allowed to have,

and in the gathering twilight (what is it that is gathered,
who is doing the harvesting?) I can make out that the long horizontal
between his lovely jaws is one of the four stakes planted on the slope

to indicate where the backhoe will dig a new grave.

Of course my impulse is to run after him, to replace the marker,
out of respect for the rule that we won’t desecrate the tombs,
or at least for those who knew the woman
whose name inks a placard in the rectangle claimed by the four poles

of vanishing—three poles now—and how it’s within their recollection,
their gathering, she’ll live. Evening of memory. Sparklamps in the grass.
I stand and watch him go in his wild figure eights,
I say, You run, darling, you tear up that hill.


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15 Responses to Fireflies

  1. Cheryl Sullivan says:

    Love that poem.

  2. Leslie Gold says:

    What a jewel you have shared. :-))

  3. Stephen G- says:

    Lovely, sad, graceful, happy poem – like a summer evening. Delighted that – even as so much light seems to be leaving us on other fronts – it’s back in the form of sparklights in the grass.

    Maybe its a harbinger of good things to come.

  4. The fireflies were so lovely last night (friday). Haven’t seen that many in, it seems, decades. Thanks for the poem too!!

  5. Emily Gyllenhaal says:

    Thanks for the lovely poem. I think they are a uniquely east coast phenom…not sure though. Would seeem to make them even more special. A little bit of nature’s magic for sure.

  6. Jackie Wein says:

    What’s magical, besides the childhood memories, are the wonderful images your words evoke.

  7. annette shear says:

    I used to spend the long summer nights in the Navy regulation canvas hammock my brother brought back from the ship he sailed on in the Pacific and watch the fireflies til I fell asleep and he would bring me into the house and put me to bed..

    Thanks, Liza for helping me remember those times.

  8. Carole Hansen says:

    I wish we had fireflies in Florida, I do miss them. However a visit to Ontario recently reminded me how special they are. I mistook one flying high for a shooting star!

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