1136: Visible Light by Heidi Seaborn

202406010 Slowdown

1136: Visible Light by Heidi Seaborn


I’m Major Jackson, and this is The Slowdown.

As a child, on summer evenings, my friends and I ran through the neighborhood collecting lightning bugs. They were most visible in vacant lots, but we feared those dark places we sometimes entered. So, the hunt for them as ten-year-olds also felt like an adventure. We gently coaxed them into glass mason jars, then sat on the stoop counting their lights to see who had the most. Their underbellies lit up and cast a glow onto our faces. Later, beneath a sheet in bed, I stared into the jar as the fireflies crawled the glass and emitted their light.

Anyone weaned on notions of urban spaces as nothing more than a hotbed of drugs and violence, could never see my neighborhood as a place of enchantment. Yet, those nights, lightning bugs turned our streets into a miracle of twinklings. Once in a poem, I described the phenomenon as “fireflies bequeathed earth stars, / such blink and blank and bunk-a-bunk-bunk.”

Last year, I learned that thousands of fireflies during mating season set off their lights at the same time in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Their collective synchronous glow is like one big bioluminescent lantern in the woods. Every handful of seconds, their abdomens alternately flash and cast a section of the Great Smoky Mountains into a burst of light, and then darkness. Thousands of people flock to the area to see nature’s light show.

I hear that same cherishing of all things luminous in today’s poem, especially of people, their radiance, how we make each other glow when we are present and humane and more than the darkness that surrounds us.

Visible Light
by Heidi Seaborn

You have bought the wrong light bulbs again–
too bright this time. This time you brought
the receipt but first you travel the well-lit aisle
of lighting fixtures. There’s a notice about a ban
on fluorescence which reminds you 
of Ben’s offer for a bioluminescence
paddle in the Salish Sea. You want that–
to glide out into a wash of light, stars and sea
bedazzled. But here in the West Seattle True Value,
you are confused by wattage, the question
of dimming and LED. How many hours 
of light should you expect? The time changed
this week and you hustle home to walk the dog
before nightfall, his vision dimming with age.
In the dark, he runs into lamp posts even as 
they cast a glow and as the neighbors’ televisions pulse
a spectrum of the evening news, the wars brightening
their big screens. You can see into their living
rooms–in a way you never do
during the long summer evenings when you wave
to one another, stop to chat about the weather.
Walking the dog in the gloaming, you feel
an unexpected tenderness for your neighbors, 
a desire to enter their darkened rooms and sit 
beside them watching the televised world.
Maybe you would be silent together.
Or perhaps, someone would turn on a light,
offer a glass of wine. You want that—
to be a reason for light.

"Visible Light" by Heidi Seaborn. Used by permission of the poet.