Poem by Tony Barnstone
In the darkness of the mind I seize--a firefly
A boy wades through mountain grass high as his elbows, collecting fireflies in a mason
He sets them bumbling against the thick glass on his dresser at night.
While he drifts off they spark occasional green stars, but don’t keep the darkness at bay
or stop the nightmares.
A young man steps off of a commuter train, but he’s gotten off at the wrong stop and he
stands numbly in the platform’s ice wind watching the train heave away.
A man taking a bath thinks, “It’s all steam on the mirror,” even his body in the bath
dialing the tap to Hot with his toe and grimacing at the belly island breaking the
surface, wet monkey hair and skin blotches and white-patched goat beard, chewed
fingernails and wrists blown out by typing.
When he pulls the plug, the little vortex will whirl into the drain as though below the
cerebral cortex something’s pulling him out of his brain.
It’s earlier and then later and then too late for understanding.
The man in the bath is me, age 54, washing down with the bathwater whatever he was
when he was what he was back then, or so he thinks, while bubbles pop.
The young man was me in Riverdale-on-Hudson, visiting an old friend who paints bright
spirits crawling up lines of force into the sky.
The boy was me, eight years old in Vermont, in our old house on Long Swamp Road. In
the morning when he woke, the black and yellow striped antennae were still,
iridescent wings folded, small black legs in the air, and the fireflies were lying in a
cluster at the bottom of the jar.
Tony Barnstone teaches at Whittier College and is the author of 18 books and a music CD, Tokyo’s Burning: WWII Songs. His books of poetry include Pulp Sonnets; Beast in the Apartment; Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki; The Golem of Los Angeles; Sad Jazz: Sonnets; and Impure. He is also a distinguished translator of Chinese literature and editor of world literature textbooks. Among his awards: the Poets Prize, Grand Prize of the Strokestown International Poetry Contest, Pushcart Prize, John Ciardi Prize, Benjamin Saltman Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the California Arts Council. http://www.whittier.edu/academics/english/barnstone