Poetry Sunday: Fireflies by Frank Ormsby

I well remember the summers of my childhood when I played outside until dark and my mother had to call me in. I loved that time of day and one of the things I loved best about it was the fireflies. We lived in the country and there were always plenty of fireflies around in those days. Today I live in the suburbs of the country's fourth largest city and I seldom see fireflies. I don't know if that is a function of where I live or if fireflies have become that much scarcer. Both perhaps.

Frank Ormsby remembers fireflies, too, and he wrote a poem to celebrate them.


by Frank Ormsby

The lights come on and stay on under the trees.
Visibly a whole neighborhood inhabits the dusk,
so punctual and in place it seems to deny
dark its dominion. Nothing will go astray,
the porch lamps promise. Sudden, as though a match
failed to ignite at the foot of the garden, the first squibs
trouble the eye. Impossible not to share
that sportive, abortive, clumsy, where-are-we-now
dalliance with night, such soothing relentlessness.
What should we make of fireflies, their quick flare
of promise and disappointment, their throwaway style?
Our heads turn this way and that. We are loath to miss
such jauntiness in nature. Those fugitive selves,
winged and at random! Our flickery might-have-beens
come up from the woods to haunt us! Our yet-to-be
as tentative frolic! What do fireflies say?
That loneliness made of light becomes at last
convivial singleness? That any antic spark
cruising the void might titillate creation?
And whether they spend themselves, or go to ground,
or drift with their lights out, they have left the gloom,
for as long as our eyes take to absorb such absence,
less than it seemed, as childless and deprived
as Chaos and Old Night. But ruffled, too,
as though it unearthed some memory of light
from its long blackout, a hospitable core
fit home for fireflies, brushed by fireflies' wings.


  1. Lovely, evocative words, Dorothy. Sadly, I think that fireflies have experienced a general, and widespread, decline along with most other insects. There is nothing quite so enchanting as a bush lit up with them. Hope you get a break from the heat soon.

    1. It's summer in Southeast Texas so we can't expect much relief until (probably) late September. That is of course unless we get a hurricane. But the Tropics seem unusually quiet just now.

  2. I grew up in New York City but we had a lot of lawn in my housing project, so I do remember seeing fireflies. Where I live now, in a semi-urban area, it doesn't seem to be that common. We see them some years, but not all years. I think your suspicions may be right.

    1. I think they have definitely declined, but then I'm not out at dusk often these days, so even if they are there, I probably don't have a chance to see them.

  3. No fireflies where I live. It wasn't until I was on a vacation in Iowa many years ago that I finally saw some; they're fun to watch flit around at night. :) Great poem.

    1. I'm not sure what their range is but certainly they fly throughout the South and Midwest in states I'm familiar with.

  4. I remember catching fireflies in glass jars when I was a kid, and I remember taking my kids to the park to look at fireflies when my kids were young. Happy memories.

    Oh dear! I think you might be right about the decline of fireflies: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2022/07/02/fireflies-possible-extinction-across-us/7795410001/

    1. I caught them in jars, also. My mother did not approve. She always scolded me and made me release them. Like so many insects as well as other critters, they are in trouble today.

  5. I recall my amazement at seeing my first fireflies when I moved to PA from England where there are none. I am sorry to hear they are in decline.

    1. In decline like so many things in Nature, unfortunately.

  6. I've not seen fireflies since I moved from the country.

    1. I see them only occasionally, not like the abundance when we lived in the country.


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