IT NEVER GETS EASIER
The poplars, stupid with brittleness,
hang huge over our house.
In the black and white night
I scan their erratic shadows,
listen to them heave.
Our heads sleep in a dormer,
the ceiling like a lean-to.
I calculate how fast I could push you
off the bed to safety between the crack
of breakage and the thunder of roof crush.
At what angle to shove so you don’t hit
your head on the nightstand. How much
of your body I can cover with mine.
There were years my mother barely
slept, worrying that the dying live oak
out back would fall and crush us.
The nights a suffocation of dread,
the window panes a dim mirror.
I lived in a burrow of worry
when my sister was a teenager—
her so beautiful, the crazy of the world
so hungry. Tragedy a spread-the-wealth
socialist, quick as a hummingbird.
Don’t get me started on car wrecks,
planes, bombs, and mass shooters.
I steel myself to let you leave the house,
your suit and tie a target or a shield
for calamity undeterred by sunshine.
Every place where I touch your sleeping
body, your heartbeat leaps up to meet
my hand. Thigh, back, bicep, cheek—
pumping proof you still exist.
You mutter, lean into my palms.
I leave my hands tucked against you,
soaking in the nuances of happiness,
the absolute terror of love.
We think orange, we think red,
We think licking up with white-hot
heat. And so the firefly is misnamed,
maybe. Its yellow and green flicker.
Glowflies? Smashed in small hands
they smear like a highlighter.
Bioluminescent. Built of light.
Put that much energy in a bulb
and it becomes an inferno,
but the lightning bug stays cool,
its love flashes no incinerator.
As the dusky Ohio heat turned
evening, my grandparents' farm
was a star-spackled glow galaxy.
Among the tall grass and melons,
the corn rows and shadow wells,
we were not the creatures
they hoped to attract, but we loved
them, captured as cruel nightlights.
In the farmhouse full of board creak
and canning, my grandmother stole
our jars away late into the night
and poured them out on the porch
like kerosene. Fireflies radiate
their whole lives. Disturb a nest
and the jostled eggs illuminate.
My father’s cousins didn’t tell us
for five years. My grandparents
a decade gone by then. Orange,
the scene from the county road.
It was a four-alarmer, Brian said,
When I saw the address come up,
well… One summer I swore I saw
a red one, followed its flame, losing
and finding it again and again
among its yellow-burn brothers.
Red. A choked night of ash.
Fireflies live in the dirt and grass
by day. Only night makes them
magic, a small, winged stroke
of wonder blazing over the dark
char where a house once stood.
JUST IN CASE
I keep asking people What will you do
when the Earth dies? Winter has attacked
us for months, and there were floods,
mudslides, earthquakes, drought,
storms bigger than memory—
it seems like a reasonable concern.
April snow choked the jonquils.
We fracture into millions of tiny fissures.
People don’t appreciate my question.
All they want is not to wear jackets anymore.
When spring does come, we weep with pollen.
I text my friend that I’m not allergic to pollen
and the line autocorrects to I’m joy allergic.
Because joy is definitely more commonly used
than not. And so many of us are immune to it.
Our doorbell rings on its own as much as it’s rung.
Sometimes twenty times in an afternoon it wants in.
The wind trips it and also the no wind.
There’s no pattern, it sounds in spurts and fits.
But we can’t stop going to the door, because
who can resist knowing what might be out there?
I am always apologizing to inanimate objects.
Sorry, I say, when I kick the doorframe, trip over
a shoe, crash my shampoo bottle to the shower floor.
I’m karmically concerned—what if they suffer?
I slam the microwave door, toss a book across
the room, and then beg forgiveness. Sorry, Sorry.
I can’t stop hurting them, so it’s just an endless
cycle of making amends. I don’t know if they
feel, but there’s just so much we don’t know,
cowed by science, drowning in doubt.