Independence Day, 1967
Blue-veined lightning crackles across their
white thighs and some women pretend to
look the other way when my Marianne
makes them gasp, beside themselves
with rage, and middle aged husbands. Breasts
bobbing beneath a patriotic halter, waving
because she sees me, smiling. My idea of
brave swells. Aunt's got some other word on the tip
of her tongue, sweat sliding between her own
cleavage, down the small of her narrow back. Approaching
us, stars and stripes ripple across the girl's incredible
chest. "God bless America", Uncle whispers, wanting
to pull proper discretion from his hip pocket
permitting liquor to unfurl his tongue and a tenacity
that glitters immutably in my aunt's eyes,
over the years. Homemade floats. Little sequined girls
wing batons, scrambling for grace.
The marching band missteps
Sousa, and sullen drummers tug at all the strapped-in heat.
Clapping splatters, ricochets off the white faces
of storefronts, the brick bank, built for believers,
the chrome plaza shines. We're talking prosperity
here. The American Dream. In the angled
glass, we go wide, rapid and unrecognizable.
A skewed image of the crowd comes
to slack-jawed attention. Two long-haired boys in army
camouflage, with tiny flags, and empty
shirt sleeves flapping, in the July heat
tramp to no music. Soon no one can
find a way to keep time. Motion and emotion
recoil, kick back and the crowd gets plain
quiet, moody with this truth, shifting
feet, sagging shoulders. Have they really lost
their arms, or are they just pulling our leg,
so to speak? Making g-d
political statements, fools
out of us, all. It's a collective question and holding
of breath, caught in the gut; fear or curiosity or
holiday hangover, bespangled; sparklers like stakes in
a patriot's heart, potato salad coming up, hot
dogs sour, the tongue's
dumb, dry, thick, forked, bitten, shot.
And then, recognition breaks like fever.
Release, as unexpected as winter
flowers within my own small town
mind, shedding adolescent awe, no more
sidestepping the past. Standing
right beside her, for once
I don't look the other way. It is Marianne's
voice and I can't miss the edge, even
if I wanted. "Christ,
they've gone and spoiled everything."
Such truth released, changed shape, got lost
on the crowd, and me, for the longest time.
The sidewalk, as we leave it, holds the lot
guarded. Eyes averted, I am considering the damage.
It's over, time to break up, go home.
Later, in a blank sky fireworks bloom and
jar the stone walls at the foundry, I can
feel the sound rise hard, seize inside me,
belly up, in the cool grass. Magnesium fuses
while copper combusts with oxygen.
Blue lightning spills, red guts the wide
place where I am waiting, an instant
of shouts, breath held, expelled.
Sorting through night for the salvageable,
making strength, tempering steel, trying to
recognize heat and breath in the dark-
a shift of loyalties and love. I've come alone.
This could be war, if we didn't know better.