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Ned Balbo

BPR 51 | 2024

Vesper Bats & Firefly Light

             —On encountering an ecosystem

Over the schoolyard footpath, vesper bats
assail the mid-June dusk. We watch them fly,
whirling in jagged motion past dark trees,
leaves sharp against the sunset’s purple fire.
Some fly so close, we’re brushed back by a wing—
black shadows, backlit, skitter in the sky.

The fireflies don’t mind. They share the sky
or drift near ground, or wink out, acrobats
who disappear in mid-flight, gone then glowing
yards away: unsynchronized, briefly
bright, like dashboard lights set to misfire.
We stand & watch the separate ministries

of different species swirl among the trees
erratically. For vesper bats, this dusky
near-night & the sky’s spent wildfire
offer a banquet for their starved battalion,
& yet, they shun each passing firefly,
lunging instead for other prey: unknowing

insects quickly snapped up on the wing.
The fireflies’ gift: their biochemistry’s
toxic effects & bad taste as they fly,
unworried envoys crossing field & sky.
Though ultrasonic echoes tell the bats
whose wing-beats to avoid (the sky’s dark sapphire

pierced by stars), their fail-safe is the fire
they glimpse, pulses that aid their winnowing
of careless travelers caught in aerial combat,
downed without a trace . . . Still, mysteries
abound & almost any path is risky . . .
Did hungry bats evolve the firefly

by hunting it until the first night-flyer,
resplendent in luciferin’s pale fire,
survived to reproduce & touch the sky?
Tonight, by chance, we find them taking wing—
the fireflies called to silent symmetries
of courtship & display, the vesper bats

skywriting like the moths they’re shadowing,
warned by each firefly’s luminescent fire—
a sentry’s caution to unwary bats.