I laid in bed, my husband’s arm hugged to my chest as fireworks popped off outside our window, and I felt a vivid realization of time as fluid. Centuries past seemed to collide on me as I imagined the millions of others who had laid in bed listening to fireworks as July the 4th burned into July the 5th. I don’t consider myself a patriotic person, and I’ve tried to call myself a-political, but it seems I can’t lack an opinion no matter how hard I try. Still, the bursts of colored fire, tightly packaged in these combustible popsicle wrappers, the booming echo of their explosions radiating across the sky…there’s nothing in me that can fight the bits of poesy in the starbursts.
As I sat on the porch, my love in front of me, mosquitos biting my wrists and ankles, we could barely see these cannon-fire magic shows above the tops of neighboring trees. Faintly, lightning crackled its superiority in the clouds surrounding us. The stars were covered by weary storm fodder; the gray skies had been present all day for their heavy rains. But, it was clear now, and all the darker was the sheet of sky for the fireworks to balance themselves against.
In between bursts of expensive, gunpowder parades we watched the empty space and our eyes caught a single floating flame. My heart, my heart…a paper lantern. Dear me, do I love paper lanterns. If I can see poesy in the ostentatious shows of colored explosions, then how much more so can I see it in the small glinting flame, puffing up the balloon which carried across the sky and into the distance. It was alone, there. And as it carried itself gently, never drooping, never showing signs of weakness, the fireworks did not go off. All eyes were on this tiny balloon, a humble “Here I am.”
Parker said, as the popping off continued, “I don’t think many people think about fireworks like they’re meant to. It’s supposed to represent cannons and gunshots. It’s supposed to represent war.”
I thought on that for a little while afterwards. In fact, I never had realized that. Of course, I knew it was supposed to represent many other concepts like freedom, victory, and independence. I knew that it was supposed to blaze in colors of red, white, and blue as if we were branding a giant American flag on the stars. Yet, I don’t think I had ever quite seen them with so complicated a lens. The red, rivers of blood from desperate men, jamming their own rifles so they wouldn’t have to shoot. Rivers of blood from men who were screaming out their last, heavy groaning calls of identity.
War is not beautiful, no matter what many people think. Perhaps, if I try, I can see that valor, patriotism, and sacrifice are some of the most beautiful things in the world, but I can hardly see blood, broken families, and murdered surrogates in the face of mixed up ideals as beautiful. But, here I am writing about the poesy of colored explosions.
I used to be enamored by military, and in many ways, I still am. I am enamored with military persons and the bravery that they have that I simply don’t. I am enamored with their minds and bodies, honed for protecting strangers here, and strangers abroad. I am enamored with women fighting alongside men, proving that every kind of heart and every kind of face seeks justice. But, I don’t know that I’ll ever get over the glimpses of dying fathers, brothers, and uncles, mothers, sisters, and aunts, sacrificed for a disagreement that apparently couldn’t have been solved by communion, by peaceful negotiation. I suppose what I’m saying is that I wish mankind were different than they are. In some ways, at least.
This is why I sometimes feel like politics are a game. For me, life itself is precious. Not each breath that I take, though I do honor and gladly receive those, life in the utter implausible existence of beings that go about their existences with a purpose. I wonder what our purpose is.
It’s impossible to sit at a fireworks show and not think back on every other fireworks show that you’ve visited. For me, sometimes these flashes of time gone by only come back to visit with a surge of tears and heartache. Fields, itchy grass and picnic blankets, cokes and lawn chairs, pomegranate chocolate in the cool air of the elevated city of Denver, photo shutters clicking and shlacking, cousins and grandparents. My fourth of July of the past was never really thinking about war or fireworks, not about being grateful, or about creating a ruckus, because none of those things were a part of it. Our chaste celebrations of the past didn’t mean much to me at the time, but each passing year further glues them, further jams them deeper into my mind because my 4ths were about family.
Family has come to mean a great deal to me. And of course, fireworks, war, and family…these are all matters of great poesy.
Photo credit: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=160978&picture=4th-of-july-fireworks