173. Fourth of July, Night

Brisk breeze
Sprang up: darktime.
The main street ran
Riot, kids loose
Up and down it,
Screaming, laughing,
Crack! of firecrackers, tin cans
Popping, hurtling
Madly through the air.
Wild with matches,
Children lighting
Fuses, scooting,
Scrambling….

By the school,
In a solemn
Coven, circled tight,
Girls sat touching
Sparklers tip to tip.
Dancing shadows
Dangled from their arms.
Each girl held her
Fizzing silver fountain,
Blurting flame.
Wands burnt, but were
Harmless, faces
Shining in white
Hiss-fire with
Delight.

Guiltily James
Hurried Barker by them.
“Here,” he said stopping,
Handing Barker
Matches. “Hold this”–
Firecracker. Then James
Wandered off aways,
Hunting who had
Bombs or Baby
Giants: he’d used his.

When he looked back,
Barker’d lit the match.
Barker, gazing as if
Hypnotized, held up
The firecracker toward the match’s
Tip. “Block
The wind!” James called.
Slightest breezes
Could speed up the fuse:
‘Cracker then would
Burst in Barker’s hand–
He must shield it–
Was this one his
First? “Block
The wind! Hey,
You!” Unseeing,
Barker, eager
With the match and fuse.
“Don’t stand–” James
Began to run, fast,
Faster–his feet
Nightmare-slow–
“Don’t–” he took one
Leap, and tackled
Barker–Pop!
Pop! The air split
Into acrid smoke.

James
Blinked: Okay? Had–
Barker was not
Hurt! But James now
Jumped him, wrestling,
Pummeling his
Face, while crying,
Furious: “You
Never listen!
Want to get
Blowed up?
Dumb guy! Firecrackers, my
Best day! Damn you,
Damn you–” rolling
In the dust.
Amazed, Barker
At last pinned him down.

Shrilling
Overhead–careening,
Shrieking–
Bam!
They looked up:
Sky rockets! Roman
Candles! Who bought
Those? Cost four bits
Each!–Bam! Bam! Some
Grampas, old men,
Off there, firing them,
Bought them for some
Treat for all the kids.
James and Barker,
On their backs, lay
Still–Bam!–Miracles!–
Pinwheels of plump
Color, red, white, green,
Blue–bam! Gold, dizzy
Spiral, blossoms
Weeping down the sky, arcs
Silver-spangled,
Splashed against the dark.

James glimpsed
Barker: seemed things
Had turned out
All right.
It was all, all
Right. Barker’s
Eyes were fixed
Above, his face ecstatic. Thank
Goodness, James thought:
At least he got
Something. He saw
Something. Me, I
Done wrong, but help
Come from somewhere
Else.

James watched Barker’s
Hair, so white and
Fine,
Run in rainbows
Mirrored from the sky.
Fireworks flared
Upward, brief and
High.

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