Fireflies

by Stephen Cramer

We could have borrowed beads from our parents’ dresser tops
or peeled faux mother of pearl buttons from our sweaters,

but immobile treasures bored us luxury was all in the pursuit
so we took the risk of dusk & thorns for fireflies, the barbs

suddenly lashing our shins & wrists because fireflies have no horns or teeth
or talons, & that means they seek the safety of briars until the right

female flickers the right combination from her abdomen, releasing the males
into the cool night air of this late June field. In this late June field

filled with rusting farm equipment, we were shadows among
darker shadows, these living jewels irresistible because of their here not

here here not here the six syllables of bioluminescence
crammed into a series of sparks & glitter. Here’s how to become rich

through death: by being eight years old. By being intoxicated
by June nights. By being unaware that this flashing in the thickets

is the simplest form of flirtation & defense. I didn’t know we were death
when we trapped the fireflies in Ball jars. I was thinking

we’d have pets for a quarter of an hour before we released them,
oblivious that jarring them meant that some would crush them

into amulets, rings, diadems, earrings, until my neighbor grabbed my hand
& squished an abdomen onto my ring finger. The previous summer,

the same neighbor tried to keep a small perch she’d pulled from the creek.
We’d watched it shimmy & dart, an opaline flash among the reeds,

till it snagged on her line. Then it sat in a bowl of water, bedroombound,
where it turned stagnant after searching for a safe corner

that wasn’t there. A week later it was belly up, its scales as crisp
as that summer night when someone tried to press another living ember

onto my wrist. I flinched. Let me do it myself. & when they cupped the firefly
into my palm I turned & let it go, the light limping back into the darkness

where it belonged, leaving me as rich, as poor as any jewelless king.