A Clearing on Ruth Island

by Dennis Nurkse

Dennis Nurkse

The child sees the firefly far 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 father’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 sleepless 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.

Last updated December 21, 2022