We don't actually have fireflies in the western U.S. My first encounter with them was at the age of 25, on a late summer trip to Ithaca, New York, driving at twilight over the back roads of the midwest. After I had rhapsodized about them for a while to a friend from Ohio, she told me, "You're probably in more danger from them now then you would have been as a child."
All to say, a dear friend just sent me Ballistics, a book of Billy Collins' poetry (Gary, you are as ever a wonder and a joy), a lovely companion to summer evenings on the patio, with small thoughts that glimmer and spark before leaving you again in the half-light, aware of something else in the air beyond you. In one of the poems, "No Things," Collins muses tongue in cheek on the martyr's impulse to pursue the big, dire questions in life rather than dive into small immediacies like the morning flower, the sparrow, the sugar bowl or the sugar spoon on the table—things that in the right frame of mind give rise to wonder, maybe even joy.
What good is the firefly,
the droplet running along the green leaf,
or even the bar of soap spinning around the bathtub
when ultimately we are meant to be
banging away on the mystery
as hard as we can and to hell with the neighbors?
So, more than most, this post is an ode to wonder, to small happenings, to oddities, to joy. As Collins suggests in "Despair," the fraternal twin to "No Things," the "ancient Chinese poets" still have much to offer us, especially "Wa-Hoo, whose delight in the smallest things/could hardly be restrained,/and...his joyous counterpart in the western provinces,/Ye-Hah."
From the western provinces, amigos—yee-haw!
Do, do, do read Billy Collins.
I don't know if one of those disclaimer-y things is necessary here, but I'm really not officially reviewing these poems or anything—as I said, a friend sent them to me for my enjoyment, and I enjoyed them, and there you are.