She found the fireflies of my youth before I even knew them
on the edge of a summer night beside my uncle's soybean field,
where fresh-cut grass gave way to a borderland backdrop
of curving stalks, gentle shadows swaying in the twilight breeze.
Our rinsed-out Miracle Whip jar with tin lids punctured
by a cousin's always-ready Swiss Army Knife blade
meant to give the captured lightning bugs a chance to breathe
though I worried about both their captivity and escape.
I don't know what guided me to point out all their silent glows
while the older kids reached into the dark and scooped up
gentle handfuls and set them in the glass jar I held,
frenzied beetle bodies glimmering yellow in my hands.
Was this what people meant by lightning in a bottle?
I didn't know the power the trapped light bestowed;
I did sense the structure of some kind of potent feeling,
a shadow presence that hinted I wasn't alone.
I usually don't remember the older kids' groans
after the scrape of threaded metal against the glass jar
as I turned the lid and watched the fireflies seep
back into the ink-black sky above my uncle's fields.
Instead, her presence comes back in unexpected places
whenever I hear that certain scrape of metal against glass
that occurs much less frequently with so many plastic lids
unpunctured and unable to give fireflies a chance to breathe.
MICHAEL JANAIRO's writing has been published in re:asian Magazine, Mithila Review, Lontar: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, Star*Line Magazine, and Eye to the Telescope, among others. A former journalist, he works at a college art museum in upstate New York, where he lives with his wife, son, and dog. His family name is pronounced "ha NIGH row." He blogs at michaeljanairo.com.