by Catherine Pierce
Its six legs coated with disease, it’s vulgar
like the aphid, the earwig. Its eyes are nightmare
globes. It does not love you or thank you
for the glass jar with air holes. Still, you want it
in your hands. Not for its yellow light like the soft
glow in the wooded cabin. Not for the vibrating
wings against your palms like champagne
bubbles bursting. Not even for the perfect
metaphors that ride on its sunflower-seed back—
the catching of a gone childhood, the memory
of keeping something alive. You pursue it
because it’s a slow beast, easily captured. Because
it hovers and floats. Because you can win at this,
and because it will fly off when you unfold
your hands, single-minded, unmoved by its loss.
(“Firefly” previously appeared in AGNI and is reprinted here today with permission from the poet.)
Catherine Pierce is the author of Famous Last Words (Saturnalia, 2008) and The Girls of Peculiar (forthcoming from Saturnalia in 2012). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Slate, Ploughshares, Boston Review, Best American Poetry 2011, and elsewhere. She lives in Starkville, Mississippi, where she teaches and co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.
Editor’s Note: I saw my first firefly this summer. I know, for those of you who grew up in the Midwest or on the East Coast this is a bit blasphemous, but we don’t have fireflies in San Francisco. I’ve dreamt of seeing one for as long as I can remember, and this summer, when conditions were right, someone who loves me very much and wanted to make my dream of fireflies a reality took me to an enchanted garden, and, lo and behold–magical creatures of my imagination! To me, today’s poem is as if looking at fireflies through Alice’s Looking Glass. I never understood why people would want to contain the creatures, how children could tear their glowing orbs from their bodies and wear them on the tips of their fingers.
Today’s poem is about the darker side of the allure of the firefly. Those human traits that make people want to capture them, to keep them in jars, to pursue only for the sake of the chase. Of course, as with so much poetry, today’s poem is also about human nature. “It does not love you or thank you / for the glass jar with air holes. Still, you want it / in your hands… Because you can win at this, / and because it will fly off when you unfold /your hands, single-minded, unmoved by its loss.”