song of the firecracker (a poem)

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a memory: i am eight years old. the parking lot at 21st and yale is packed, and the whole sky is rumbling. the pepsi logo flashes bright above us for one, two, three seconds before fading into the night like all the brilliant sparkling dandelions of light before it. someone fifty feet away shoots off a roman candle. i ask my father what it is, and he begins to answer, to explain how it works, but then another salvo crackles through the air above us and i am gone. fireworks may not be magic, but i am still enchanted.

a myth: they say prometheus gave us fire because he pitied us. he saw us shivering in our caves, inches from death, and he took pity on us. and for that, zeus wanted his liver pecked out for as long as fire will burn. which is to say, forever.

a memory: two summers in a row, we bought sparklers and lit them in our backyard. i waved sparkler after sparkler as fast as my arm could move, watching the tiny fiery stars fizzle out as they fell to the grass, a little thrill pulsing in my chest every time i didn’t get burned. the second summer, a spark landed on my arm, next to my birthmark. i ran water from the garden hose over my stinging arm, and i have never held a sparkler since.

a fact: the color blue is the hardest to produce in a firework. scientists have tried for hundreds of years to make the perfect deep blue firework, to little success. to this day, they’re still trying.

a memory: i am on a hill in salt lake city with a few dear friends, watching fireworks. four, five, six explode at once, their gold sparkles melting into shimmering city lights, the cracks echoing faintly through the valley like a car backfiring four blocks over. they look so small from here. college is already a distant memory. my twenty-second birthday is in three weeks. i am on top of the world, and i don’t know what will happen when i come down.

a fact: calcium chloride makes orange fireworks, and sodium nitrate makes yellow fireworks.
another fact: when stars die, nuclear fusion forms elements up to and including iron.
(i wonder what the stars think of fireworks.
i wonder if they are satisfied with the afterlife.)

a memory: i am in iowa, watching fireworks from across a cornfield. my sister sits on the grass beside me. all the lights, green and gold and red and blue alike, are stark against the night sky. the cracks and rumbles roll across the field like the waves in clear lake, some reaching us and some fading out amid the cornstalks. i slap away a bug on my arm and think that maybe the magic was never in the fireworks, but in the people who make them, who mix and remix the ashes of stars, who can turn destruction into creation into spectacular shining destruction.

a wish: next year, maybe i’ll hold a sparkler again.

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