Firefly – by Ann Chinnis

In hospice, when I droppered the morphine
under my mother’s tongue, she
closed her eyes and scanned a faraway
Ozark night for signs of her homeplace.
She was surprised by the fireflies
which, in the Missouri night, favored
the silver and white Northern Lights,
she imagined. But dark hadn’t fallen,

and she could not yet hear
the porch rockers creaking,
or her mother’s laughter.
And where were the crickets? When she
set out towards the fireflies, past
the white hollyhock of her homeplace,
the creek grew brighter. Beyond
the creek, the bridge out of town,
the bridge that waited eighty years
for her to cross back over.

When she stood on the bridge
and cupped a firefly in her hand, she was,
once more, my mother–not the sad woman who,
after my father left us, sat in the attic typing
speeches supporting the Episcopal Ordination
of women. I would lie with my head
next to her desk and close my eyes to the sound
of her Smith-Corona typewriter, the strike
of the keys mechanical, the swipe
of the carriage return furious–my life
imprinted with her loneliness and vengeance
that I took as my own anger and detachment.

Once more, she became the mother who
unscrewed my canning jar lids, freed
my fireflies, spun in her white cotton
nightgown beneath their breathtaking beauty
with a cry that might have embarrassed you
but didn’t, letting me know there was more
to our lives besides the empty in our attic.
It made me think we were overflowing.

It wasn’t the bridge she needed, not in the least–
she had traveled the world giving speeches.
The steady fireflies did what she loved them for–
they reappeared every night to remind her of home.
She didn’t feel the shame of her strokes, could say
“firefly” as she held it, intrigued by its blinking–
a harbor light flashing her safe passage home.

Watching the fireflies flick in a cluster–though
the night was so big and they were free to fly
anywhere–she once again felt the joy of her family
at the old oak table, her aunts setting the table,
hanging their aprons on the backs
of their chairs, laughing. I sat by her bed
holding her hand, and my mother opened her eyes–
as if to tell me she made it home before night fell.

Ann Chinnis has been an Emergency Physician for 40 years, as well as a healthcare leadership coach, and studies in The Writers Studio Master Class under Philip Schultz. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in The Speckled Trout Review, Crab Creek Review, Sky Island Journal, Sheila-Na-Gig and Nostos, among others. Her debut chapbook Poppet, My Poppet was recently published by Finishing Line Press, and her chapbook I Can Catch Anything is forthcoming next spring. Ann lives with her wife in Virginia Beach, Virginia.