A Clearing on Ruth Island
by D. Nurkse
The child sees the firefly off in the tall pines. It’s very late. I did
not expect another summer, another child, so much darkness. She trots
away to catch it. Possibly nine minutes later, she lopes back, barely
winded. There is the light in her cupped hands. She shows it off: look
how it pulses. She will pass it to me. I can feel the little wind and the
adamant wing against my palms. My life is almost over. I pass it back.
She waves it up dramatically. We watch for a greenish spark. If the
night is clear and we can stare up for a full minute, we are guaranteed
to see a satellite, a star whose name I know—there are only five—a
glittering meteor, a comet, or the glint of a plane headed to the Arctic.
Those towering ghostly shapes must be the huge unmoving cumulus
of late summer, the clouds Jesus referred to when he said “in my fa-
ther’s house there are many mansions.” These close low humpbacked
shapes must be the fishermen’s boats, hauled high and tarped.
No lamps on the island. What light there is seems to come from under
our sneakers. Now the fireflies are flashing in phase—you could parse
it out, like the meter of a fugue.
The plan is obvious: earth will become more and more beautiful until
I can’t stand it. Then I will vanish. It will be in my mind that the skiffs
are hauled up, safe from the wild tide; in my mind that the silly sleep-
less accordion plays “Sweet Lorraine,” over-sweet across deep water.
I can’t see the child but she takes my pinkie, almost angrily. She will
lead me back to Scoffield, counting our steps on the stony path. When
we come to a million, we will be home.