171. July 1

“Nigger selling
‘Crackers! Firecrackers here!”
Laughing, the girl
Pounded down the street, fast as
Feet could go.
Saturday in
Town! Small heads popped up–
Up from storefronts,
Out of dusty cars,
Around stairsteps, corners,
All converging
On this girl, their
Scout. “Where? Where?”
Out of breath: “Here

Sure enough–
Battered truck in
Sight, and trundling
Right their way.
Always they shot
Fireworks for holidays,
Christmas, and the Fourth.
Christmas had been
Strange, with scarce a present.
But the Fourth might
Be good as before: ‘crackers,
Cheap. Crates
On the truck bed
Open to be seen–
Instantly, both
Old and young, a crowd.

          BUY YOU? COINS?
Barker’s eyes burned
Blue with his desire. James
Cocked his head:
He hoped Tom would
Give him change for
Barker–else he’d
Have to share.
And here Tom came
From the barbershop, struck
By two eager
Faces fixed his way.
Tom sighed and gave
James an extra dime: two.
Grieved, James summoned
Still the grateful
Smile Dad waited for.
Tom burned back.
James’ heart raced:
Now the truck, with
Barker! As he
Stood in line, James
Spotted Matt ahead.

Colored man had
Seen Matt’s dollar bill.
Man nodded his gray head,
Smiled winningly: “Won’t you take
These, Mister?”–fist of
Baby Giants–“Real loud.
Safe–” one eye
On boy’s ma.
Man thought: safe as
Any of ’em–
Got this bunch cheap.
Matthew looked at
Patty. Patty
Looked at Bud and
Tried her brightest smile:
“Can’t he have those,
Sweetheart? Boy here
Says they’re safe.” Hearing
Wheedling, laughter
Flecked the black man’s eyes.
Bud deliberated, took his
Time. Few
Kids in line had
Dollars, he well knew.
Grandly: “Oh, I
Guess so.” Matthew
Took the Giants,
Cherry Bombs as well,
Three Torpedoes,
‘Crackers, pockets full.

James’ turn! Now he
Stepped up, rubbing
Coins: this, first year
He had been
Allowed to buy his own.
“I’ll take these–”
String of firecrackers. “And–”
Bit his lip–
“How much, Baby
Giants?” Man:
“Five a a quarter.”
James’ face fell.
Kids behind him,
Pushing–James thought fast:
“Sir, wouldn’t sell them
Single, would you now?”
Man glanced down:
Pasty-faced boy,
Beanpole in tore shirt.
“Yeah, okay.”
James, relieved–“One
Baby Giant, then!”

James felt Barker
Squirming at his side,
But James wouldn’t
Pause to find out why. Still
Left to get, James’
Favorite: these screeched
Loud and squiggled
On the ground!
“And I’ll take a–”
Suddenly James
Stopped. His face
Reddened. James
Began again.
He looked off,
Avoiding the man’s
Gaze: “I’ll take–” James’
Mouth, it would not

Say it: nigger-chaser.
Easy, quick: one
Nigger-chaser, please.
“I’ll–” struck dumb.
Why? He’d heard Tom….
James himself had
Said it, with his friends….
Children in
The line began to
Fuss, pushing,
Yelling: “Hurry
Up! Ain’t got all day!”
“I’ll take–” James stood,

“Huh?” James, startled,
Stared at Barker,
Whose eyes darted
From James’ to the man’s,
As if Barker got it,
And was signing
With impatient speed.
James understood. He
Put a finger
On the nigger-chasers. The man
Tossed him one.
Then with Barker
Joining, at his heels, James
Fled, yet
His eyes for a moment
Lingering, on the coins
Flung on the man’s
White palm.

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