day lightning bugs

stepInstead of Being Worried, We Tell Stories
Our rooster would be crowing, if we had one,
and the horse we’d name Jeep or Chevy would be rolling
his oat bucket behind us as we walk along the river
to catch our school bus. First day as the new kids
from the country, too poor for any pets. Mousetraps
in the hallway, snakes beneath our porch. We tell stories
the city kids won’t know. God is serving breakfast, scrambling
up a sunrise, explaining how trees breathe, why streams
beg for ice. Is it true, we ask, that stars are lit
by catch-colt boys with slingshots and pebbles rolled
in noble dust coughed from our pockets every time
we’re nice? He nods to show He’s listening, opens
a fresh egg carton packed with twelve new months.
Cracks September open, peels it hard-boil style,
the way we tear labels from old crayolas. Lemon
green, wrinkled maple, frozen river black. We know
this is how new colors are born- melting crayons
in a can, talking with God before the sun
comes up, waiting for our bus.

(Previously published by Quay Poetry Journal)


I had forgotten about this poem until I came across an article about a book of colors from 1692. An obscure painter had set about to create a book filled with 800 pages of separate colors—water colors. And how to achieve each color. How many drops of sky mixed with how many drops of lemon, diluted with a certain measure of water. Being 1692, the book remained obscure- it was too impossible to make copies enough to share.

And now, the latest color guide documents over 2100 colors, 175 of them being considered “new.” We can pick the guide up at number of paint stores.

Where do colors come from? A long time ago in a different life, a man who also tried to teach me how to defend myself against any imagined attack, explained the concept of purple to me. Apparently, every color in the universe which finds its way to earth is accorded its own specific number on a spectrum. Purple, however, doesn’t land on the spectrum. To achieve the color of purple, numbers from two other colors must come together first. So many colors, he told me, lie rather far from the spectrum.

What I took away was still no ability defend myself, and the continued belief new colors are still waiting to be seen.


Since 1989, scientists have been aware of one baleen whale with a voice registering at 52 Hz. That’s higher than any whale sound known. Most whales sing in the range of 12 to 25 Hz. And the thing about whales is that this is how they find each other. This is how they gather, fall in love, form communities.

But what if you have that one voice no one can hear? You become the color purple that can’t be seen unless two other colors come together. You become the sound wave, dismissed. Scientists can hear her now and then, but they can’t find her. None of her songs are answered by another whale, and the search continues for her.. It’s 2014, and this whale has been “out there”, singing at 52Hz by herself for over two decades now. Waiting to be heard by another whale.

This is what the ocean  sounds like when the scientists stop to listen from the ocean’s floor: Click here.


I am reading Before Night Falls as slowly as I can. Reinaldo Arena’s words shore and shine even during (or perhaps because of) the horrific times spent in the Cuban prison system for being a poet and a Castro critic.  Sit beside him in his cell when he writes that the body is weaker than the soul. The soul, after all, has art and poetry to keep the soul strong.

For example: “Like a lightning bug… Like a lightning bug?… Yes, just like a night lightning bug; because there are day lightning bugs too – even if nobody has ever seen one, I know there are some, and I know the day lightning bugs are the cockroaches that since they can’t light up, people kill them.”



About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website:

3 responses to “day lightning bugs

  1. Kerry O'Gorman

    My oh my…the colour wonder people crave this colour so! Your opening poem is both enchanting and haunting and takes me along for the ride.
    This grandmother whale without love seems so sad, out there in that vast ocean singing her heart out…sigh…it’s a sad and beautiful world.

  2. I just read your post. I am here, alone, at my computer. I spent the earlier part of the morning talking with my brother who is visiting from Australia. He is a music teacher in a primary school near Perth, composing, arranging, working with a recorder ensemble and students to whom he teaches guitar on his lunch hour. I have not seen him in 10 years, with even longer spaces between since he moved away at the age of 19 in 1968. I was already morphing into some other form of matter and have now been pushed so far away from the known borders by your post I think I need to lash myself. Odysseus-fashion, to the table leg. Your unfailing way of bringing in all the bits to remind us how everything is itself and also every other thing nearly knocked the wind out of me just now. Every part of this is wonderful and just gets bigger and bigger as we read. I ramble, I feel ensorcered. xo

  3. What a wonderful post. So much good stuff I can’t even begin. Wonderful book. (Arenas.) Oh, I found it, on my shelf. It’s sitting on my desk now. … I am fascinated by colors and color classifications also. Wikipedia has a long list of strange and interesting ones and sometimes I just flick through them. Click on green, and see what you get…etc. Sometimes I believe I’m going to use them (the names) for poems. They rarely end up in there actually, but they delight me to look at.
    “So many colors, he told me, lie rather far from the spectrum.”
    “Instead of Being Worried, We Tell Stories.”

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