A Journal of poetry and kindred prose

Penny Harter

is published widely in journals and anthologies, and her literary autobiography appears as an extended essay in Contemporary Authors. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The Barefoot Muse, Exit 13, The Edison Literary Review, Gargoyle, and The Valparaiso Review.

Her most recent books are Along River Road; Lizard Light: Poems From the Earth; and Buried in the Sky. WordTech Editions publishes her new collection, The Night Marsh, in January 2008.

She has won three poetry fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, as well as awards from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Poetry Society of America, and the first William O. Douglas Nature Writing Award for her work in the anthology American Nature Writing 2002. She works as a teaching poet for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Arts-in-Education program.  For more information, please visit her website.

—Back to Orsorum Contents—

A Swarm of Fireflies

Because it is February still and forever,
and the snow clings beneath the sycamore,
receding slightly in each afternoon’s sun,
when there is sun, leaving a brown hole
around the great trunk whose bark
is scabby and pale in this pure cold;

Because it is February,
I remember the fireflies I chased
on childhood summer nights—
my two hands trapping those faint glows,
the crawling of the insects on my palms,
and then the careful transfer to a jelly jar
until it was full and I tightened the lid.

I would find that child—
her face pressed against curved glass,
mouth dumb, eyes unblinking;
her hands cupping a jar of light,
believing that was enough.

If a swarm of fireflies descended now
from the heart of this old sycamore
so huge it must tap nourishment for miles
below this frozen soil; if fireflies filled the air
around my body as I stand here on dead bark,
my back pressed against this aging tree,

I would fall to my knees,
I would open my hands, palms up
to let us go, to let us all go
into fire.