Brian Johnston

Gold Star - 20,160 Points (Jan.20,1943 / Oklahoma)

Ph: Farm: Why Fireflies Dance - Poem by Brian Johnston

Pausing on a late trip to South Dakota
I pulled off of the highway
Somewhere in Kansas
And shut off the lights
Reflecting that it might be good
To clear the windshield of bug carcasses
That were only being smeared
Into a thin, barely transparent paste
By my windshield wipers at this stage.

As my eyes became used to the moonlit hollow
Where my vehicle purred quietly
I began to realize something was strange.
There were stars dancing that night
Whose light had never been
Gathered by a telescope,
A job, better left perhaps,
To a wide-eyed child with a ‘Ball Jar' & lid,
Than to a scientist living behind thick lenses.

Opening the car door, revelation struck,
Though alone in the dark, God was with me.
The valley in which I'd parked
Was teeming with more fireflies
Than I had ever seen
In the entirety of my uneventful life.
Even in the stupor of mechanical driving
I realized that by chance I had discovered
What might just be the ‘eighth wonder of the world.'
The air was full of ecstasy
And my impoverished heart simply enchanted.

The fireflies in their mating frenzy
Made the full moon seem
The victim of an incredible meteor shower,
Flashes of light exploding on lunar surface
As each projectile ended its journey,
This illusion blurred only slightly
By less ambitious brothers and sisters
Whose ardor blotted out the milky way
Stretching horizon to horizon
As they flashed the opposite sex.

Still, all in all, it was quite a show.
These moon striking invertebrates,
Faux-astronauts though they were,
(Unlike us, leaving no debris behind to litter)
Giving up their tiny ghosts over and over,
Adding a buggy visual pun to the night
Clearly suggesting, that in romance at least,
All of us experience multiple crash landings.

Topic(s) of this poem: nature, travel

Poet's Notes about The Poem

Brian Johnston
February 14,2014
This poem is dedicated to my honorary God-Daughter (who is perhaps the 9th wonder of the world in my life right now) , the upcoming poet Neethu Panicker right here on Poem Hunter, and my friends Lora Colon, Ed Nigma, and Tapan Pradhan for their much valued support and comments. A psychic once told me that I had been St. Valentine in a previous lifetime. Don't suppose she will like this poem much! But just in case I was, I wish all my PH family a great Valentines day.

And also a note of appreciation to the group Sixpence None The Richer and their song 'Kiss Me' which contains the line 'Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance until the moon is sparkling.' This line and my personal experience are both at the heart of this poem.

Comments about Ph: Farm: Why Fireflies Dance by Brian Johnston

  • (9/15/2018 12:06:00 PM)

    Hi, Brian. An evocative poem. It reminded me of a couple of things: Richard Wilbur's Mayflies poem, and a night on a glass-calm remote inlet where perfect darkness was lit up by raindrops striking the water and causing bursts of bioluminescence. Some experiences are so beautiful they're hard to express in words. Your poem achieves that pretty well. (Report)Reply

    (9/15/2018 7:36:00 PM)

    Thanks John! Comparing my work to Richard Wilbur is high praise indeed to me! He is one of my most favorite poets. You might take a look at my poem PH: College: Love of ______ that was a college attempt to honor his poem Love Calls Us To The Things Of This World I hope you like it too!

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  • Kim Barney (11/8/2015 6:48:00 PM)

    What an experience! I've lived a long time but have never seen a firefly, at least not that I can remember. I think I used to have a good memory, but can't remember for sure. (Report)Reply

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  • Abekah Emmanuel (9/22/2014 3:09:00 PM)

    Great piece of work. i enjoyed your style of narration....Poetic experience at display.... well written! (Report)Reply

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  • Daniel Brick (7/11/2014 3:56:00 AM)


    What a wonder-filled poem, Brian! ! From the first line to the end I was captivated by this NATURAL display of beauty AND your commentary on its significance in human terms. The pacing of the poem is admirable, and it benefits from such pacing so that each sections brings us new delights and appreciation and also a cumulative joy which cinches the poetic vision we have witnessed. An experience like this is the antidote for despair and/or boredom which so many in the world today use to excuse their lack of delight and gratitude. THEY need your poem in the most urgent manner. Then they will relax into WONDER and HOPE, and be saved....

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  • Bri Edwards (6/21/2014 10:32:00 PM)

    p.s. WHY do FIREFLIES DANCE? ? ? ? ? ? ? :) I DON'T remember seeing the answer. is it to amuse or enchant humans? (Report)Reply

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  • Bri Edwards (6/21/2014 12:18:00 AM)

    i read the poem and then started reading the comments, below. (i also read the welcome poet's note.) i got through ONE (at least) big self-comment by the author and skipped reading all of his even-longer one. how would i, so late at night, have time to adequately write my own comment otherwise? ? brian, i do feel you must TALK more than i do! is that possible? ? ? my wife would probably doubt it.
    forget the ratings [easier said than done, i suppose]. i almost never notice poem ratings, on mine or others. i also almost never give a numerical rating, instead rating each poem using my words, which can be a mixture of pro and con. some people are just trouble-makers or have bad taste, OR truly believe what they do is correct when giving very negative ratings (i suppose) . i would be interested, but not too enthused perhaps, to read some of THEIR poems, if they can write! ha ha.

    this poem, at one point, made me think prose. BUT it is so well -written (my opinion of course) and has a certain rhythm which i enjoyed a lot.

    one of my favorite sets of lines:

    The fireflies in their mating frenzy
    Made the full moon seem
    The victim of an incredible meteor shower,
    Flashes of light exploding on lunar surface ...........nice job making me see what you saw.


    And shut off the lights
    Reflecting that it might be good
    To clear the windshield of bug carcasses
    That were only being smeared
    Into a thin, barely transparent paste .....................i know what ya mean!

    fireflies were around when i was a kid (i caught my share of them) , but i have rarely seen their lights as an adult.
    two memorable evenings when i DID see them after retiring were 1- on a 17 mile hike along a highway back to my home, when i missed a bus connection while returning from visiting my daughter when she was in medical school. 2- on a quiet stroll with my wife in a small out-of-state town when on our way back from my daughter's wedding several years later. thanks for reminding me of those times. the 17 miles wasn't too bad as most of the way was without much traffic and it was dark and cool after a rather warm day. and i probably had ice cream in the freezer at home waiting for me.
    thanks for sharing. bri :) [[ok, if you must know. how about an 8? i liked (better) the original ending you mentioned below; the to the butt of their joke change confounded me a bit. ]]

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  • Shobana Gomes (6/12/2014 10:32:00 PM)

    I love to watch the fireflies at night casting their luminence all around us. Used to see them during my schooldays away from the city but not seen them around for a long time now. A wonderful poem Brian. (Report)Reply

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  • Archana Kapoor Nagpal (2/21/2014 3:19:00 AM)

    I really liked it! Heart-felt and mesmerising in all the ways! (Report)Reply

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  • Brian Johnston (2/19/2014 10:50:00 AM)

    Hey Ed, I've changed the last lines of my poem and think it's even better now. Thanks for forcing me to think about the overtones of what was actually said there and not just my intention. Your comments are a great example of constructive criticism at work and even though my changes are still in harmony with my original intention, the overtones that bothered you are now gone.

    'As if trying to prove to the gullible
    That reincarnation is real.'

    has now become

    'As if trying to prove to the butt of their joke
    That reincarnation is real...
    And meteors too reincarnate!
    But I think they went too far, don't you? '

    On a personal note, however, even though I was really only talking about myself in the original last lines of this poem (certainly I was the gullible one in this poem anyway) , I consider being gullible to be one of the most endearing of human frailties. Being gullible certainly does not mean that one is stupid, you can always change your mind later. Being gullible simply means the suspension of disbelief until change is forced upon you.

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  • Susan Lacovara (2/19/2014 9:20:00 AM)

    It is still a favorite rite of summer, to watch for the sprinkling of fireflies light...returns my heart to childhood wonder..and relish in God's perfect might.... what an illuminating write, thank you for your creativity and clever colorful imagery. PEACE (Report)Reply

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  • Brian Johnston (2/18/2014 11:14:00 PM)

    Dear Readers,
    You do the math. Last night I added 2 new poems to my Poem Hunter site, 'Ode to a Feather' and 'What a Pair! ' This morning when I woke up both this poem 'Why Fireflies Dance' which had previously received 3 scores of 10 and my two new poems had each received 4 scores of 1.0 each. To do this, as I understand it, would mean that people from four different e-mail addresses had discovered my poems on the same evening, had a violent reaction to them (because they are such trash) , and feel compelled to actually vote them as negatively as possible. That seems highly unlikely to me. This poem, 'Fireflies..', for example, last night, had a score of 30 with 3 votes, this morning it has a score of 34 with 7 votes. This gives it an average score of 4.9. My suspicion is that the 4 votes of 1.0 all came from one member. Of course, I can't prove it. This is just a suspicion. But personally if this person is using multiple email addresses to act maliciously toward either a poem or a poet, I think this reflects badly on his character. Surely integrity would dictate 1 person 1 vote don't you think? If these actions are due to just one person alone then he has multiplied his malfeasance by four. And I say shame on you Sir!

    This just in. In a new letter, also attached to this poem, this person admitted/claimed that he and a group of others have taken it upon themselves to clean up the PoemHunter website by voting down any poet/poem they happen not to like. One of my latest poems mentioned above actually collected 6 ratings of 1.0 in the first 12 hours of its posting before I blocked the voting on it as well. (Please check my poems out for yourself and see if you think any of my poems can be fairly rated a 1.0.

    Some of you know who this person is and if you want to keep tabs on his rather bizarre rantings against me I refer you to his 'poetry' site though my intention is simply to ignore him in the future. I still suspect he is a one man show and not a 'Gang of 6' as he might like us to believe. In any case, if there are others with him they have all been too cowardly so far to criticize any of my poems except anonymously.

    For those who do like my poems and/or who want to offer critical comments, please do, I welcome such offerings. If you wish to rate a poem from 1-10 in your commentary I will let that stand too if it seems clear that your intent is to help me grow as a poet, and not a simple expression of your hatred for others who rub you the wrong way.

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  • Brian Johnston (2/18/2014 11:11:00 PM)

    Dear readers who believe in reincarnation. I know that my friend Ed does see value in this idea and it may surprise Ed and you that I do also. Let me explain.

    As a former scientist of sorts (before video games won my heart) I was trained to believe in models of reality. A model of reality is valuable if it helps us to make predictions about what may happen in a particular experiment or if it helps us to get a picture in our minds of what might actually be going on. One model of anti-matter, for instance, is that anti-matter is ordinary matter moving backwards in time. Sounds crazy doesn't it? But guess what. Mathematical theories constructed using this idea as a fundamental postulate actually work. But surprise surprise there are other models (to complicated for me to explain here) that sound very different but which also produce mathematical theories which work too. You can see that it is starting to get complicated here. We have two different models, producing two different sets of mathematical formulas and both of them work. OK so how do you now determine which one of them is real? The philosophy of science (at least when I was in college) suggested that the answer to this problem was that models of reality are never real in the sense that God would say to the scientist, 'Yep that's right! You really understand my creation here.' No one really knows what God thinks of anti-matter. He could be laughing His head off for all we know. Now here is what I think is funny. A mathematician came along and was able to prove that both sets of mathematical equations will always, under all circumstances give the same answers. So logically there is and can never be a way to prove one of these models (or theories) right and the other one wrong. This knowledge was a key factor in me becoming a video game designer! I'm still laughing. So how does all this relate to reincarnation? Let me explain.

    Different religions have different models of explaining to us how and why the world works the way it does. For example, modern psychology is kind of a religion, a model that can help us, if we give it a chance, to get a perspective on our lives. It can help! You know talk to a psychiatrist once a week for an hour, pay him $200 a pop for his time, he listens and after a couple of years, if you are lucky maybe he will share an insight with you that will actually help you get your life back on track. But it takes time. You have to build up trust, and trust=money out of your pocket and into his. (Hey this is a poetic explanation, not science)

    OK on the other hand you go to a psychic and he sizes you up, he's really a pretty smart guy, looks at your posture, your clothing, your education, how neat you are (OK clearly I'm not a psychic) anyhow he works his magic and comes up with a story of a past life he's probably used on a dozen other people that he's diagnosed with your same problem and makes it fit you and your situation. You are amazed (trust established) , you pay him a small sum of money (his story now has value because you have paid for it, he can actually, if he is good, tell you the truth about yourself (WHICH IS WORTH SOMETHING) and you won't slug him in the nose (because after all this all happened in a past life and hey even if your past life is impacting you in this one, it's not you. You can be different this time. Change is possible!

    So to finish up (I hope the above discourse was entertaining as well) I am not saying that reincarnation is not real, I simply do not know. I do see though that it has value for many people whose experience of it is undoubtedly much deeper and more insightful than my own. What I know for sure however, is that fireflies don't have any damn opinion on this subject and were probably only interested in mating as many times as possible before they die. This was suppose to be a very funny joke only. The last two lines that Ed is sensitive to came to me only after I came up with the line, 'Giving up their tiny ghosts over and over, ' in keeping with the idea that they actually were trying to impersonate meteors to impress me of all people. I simply ask myself, 'Why would they do that, ' and the rest as they say is history.

    I sure hope that other readers like yourself Ed will just let me off of the hook now and enjoy what I think is one of the best poems that I've ever written.

    PS: Hope now I don't start hearing from NASA people for criticizing them for leaving trash on the moon? ! I really love you guys. Really I do! Hey let's have launch sometime soon!

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  • Valsa George (2/14/2014 11:48:00 PM)

    This is such a beautiful poem Brian....! I could relate to the scene described here... I too have seen thousands of fireflies on a clear night by the side of a valley and I thought the heavens had fallen down with a million stars! As you say... 'it was quite a show'. For this great write, you definitely deserve a 10 (Report)Reply

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Poem Submitted: Friday, February 14, 2014

Poem Edited: Thursday, January 28, 2016

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