Today's poem is by Jeff Simpson
The Fifth of July
Kids down the street pop leftover firecrackers,
and Max jumps from my lap, spilling Beefeater
down my shirt. For a second I want to kick him
or toss what's left of the ice and gin into his chocolate
face because I was taught that everything deserves
a little pain now and then. He comes back to the sofa,
ears folded back, looking culpable as dogs do
when they've disappointed their masters.
I say Good boy and roll his tennis ball across the floor.
Good boy for sitting, for fetching, for shaking
hands. I remember the summer I turned eleven
Roman candles and cherry snow cones,
the smell of rust and old tires at the junkyard
where Tony and I dug through piles of scrap
for bicycle parts, cutting our hands on busted water
heaters, the doors from a once-green Chevelle,
and how the day after the oohs and awws,
the bombs bursting in air, we rode back to the park
to finish our pyrotechnics among the debris
of independencebeer cans and fruit rinds,
ashes from the bonfire scattered across the grass,
the whole scene like an actress thrust into daylight,
blemishes and all. We saw Spencer and his sister
twirling sparklers by the gazebo, the white light burning
like a welder's arc, and I thought of the time I watched
my father smelt a new hitch on Thurman's trailer,
and I stared into the blue light even though he told me
not to and had to spend the next day in bed with potato
wedges over my eyes. Spencer came over, all pleated
shorts and clean shoes. He bragged about his Rangers jersey,
his new bike, the handcuffs his parents bought him
real handcuffs, a cop's handcuffsthe kind you could use
against resisting fathers or delinquent mothers.
The metal caught the sun like a prism as he latched
and unlatched each side, the beauty of new things
when everything we wanted had to be found, assembled,
or stolen from a pickup bed. The wind whipped up dust
and ash, and I looked at Tony just before he punched
Spencer in the eye, clenching his face into a tight ball
as he reached across his handlebars.
We could've stopped there, but because we were bored
or poor or too young to understand the particulars
of disappointment, we kicked him to the ground,
shackled his arms behind a lamp pole and tossed cherry
bombs at him in the heattiny explosions starbursting
whelps over his legs, his screams mixing with the pops
and bangs like an 8-track cassette. We stood there
and sweated fuses like cowboys timing their assault
on the unsuspecting stagecoach with a stick of dynamite
jubilant, exalted, screaming into his wet face,
You crybaby! You fuckin' momma's boy!
What do you do when the day tries to burn out
your heart? How do you keep your hands steady
when the world gives you so much to cry about?
Years later Tony would drive me to a party in an empty
field below a planetarium of stars.
The goal was to shotgun a six-pack and run through
the darkness until you smashed into someone,
your atoms colliding with theirs. Much of me
is the same except I can afford better booze
and a little more light. In the morning I find the remains
of a possum Max has left next to my boots.
Such. a sweet gesture. Such a good boy.
Some dogs never get used to the sound of gunfire
or fireworks. Some will break ice on ponds
just to retrieve what we kill.
Copyright © 2011 Jeff Simpson All rights reserved
from Vertical Hold
Steel Toe Books
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission
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