Where I Come From, We Call Them “Lightning Bugs” – A Poem by Cynthia Pitman


Fireflies at Ochanomizu – Kobayashi Kiyochika

by Cynthia Pitman

My brothers and my sisters and my cousins —
there were a lot of us.
Mama fixed a big supper
and laid it out on the rickety picnic tables
under the pecan trees in the backyard.
There were so many pecan trees,
Mama filled brown paper grocery bags
to overflowing with pecans
we could crack and eat by the fire at night.
She made syrupy-sweet, sticky pecan pies for dessert.
We would lick our fingers after,
but they still held the stick.
We caught lightning bugs after supper.
We ran barefoot.
The grass was cool and damp from dew.
I would jump and reeeeach
every time I saw one.
Sometimes they flew too high for me,
so they got away.
But they’re slow. Most of the time I caught them.
I would twist-twist-twist the lid off my old mayonnaise jar
and – quick! – put them in.
Then I would twist-twist-twist the lid back on tight.
I held up my jar and watched the lightning bugs
flicker flicker flicker.
Sometimes they would die.
I don’t know why. The lid had air holes.
But their lights would soon start to f l i c k e r
and go all the way out.
I tried to dump the dead ones out of the jar
without letting the live ones escape.
But that wasn’t easy to do.
Usually I just let the dead ones pile up.
Soon, all my lightning bugs were dead,
piled up in the bottom of the jar —
a mass grave of collateral damage
in a game called childhood.

About the Poet

Cynthia Pitman began writing poetry again this past spring after a 30-year hiatus. She has since had poetry published in Vita Brevis, Right Hand Pointing, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Ekphrastic Review, Literary Yard, Amethyst Review, Postcard Poems and Prose, and Leaves of Ink. She has had fiction published in Red Fez and has fiction forthcoming in Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art.

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15 thoughts

    1. Thank you, Walt. Those were good times. It’s funny that I was born in Tennessee but still call them lightening bugs!

        1. I’m pure Southern. Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia. But I married a boy from upstate New York. Bi-cultural. 😁

  1. I grew up in the Northern Neck of Virginia and we called them “lightning bugs.” I was in my twenties before I finally decided that what the poets call “fireflies” were my “lightning bugs.” We little boys, cruel as science, soon learned that if you kill one while the bug is on, its abdomen will continue glowing electric chartreuse for nearly an hour; we thus became always careful never to kill one when it was in the off cycle of winking. I’m not going to say anything about how, in the dark, a little boy’s face looks, smeared with glowing lightning-bug guts, Thanks for this stroll down Memory Lane!

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