Here we go again. My third least favorite holiday (after Valentine’s Day and Halloween, I mean). The one no one calls July 4th and everyone calls “The Fourth of July.”
Still, this year brings an unusual Fourth. First there’s the elephant in the world, Covid-19, rubbing its hands in glee at the thought of big gatherings. Especially maskless, “I have my rights (to spread disease that might kill people)!” gatherings (thank you, Typhoid Donny).
Second, there’s the dream that America might actually be thinking of circling back. You know, to the mess the Founding Fathers left for future generations (Civil War being the result). The one still festering because of words like these: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (except women, Blacks, American Indians, and assorted other minorities) are created equal.”
What if, some people are finally asking? What if we went back to all the beautiful language and ideals in our roots and made it real for everyone, not just the few and the privileged?
So there’s that.
But this poem, a few years old and originally printed in Issue 14 of Unbroken Journal as well as in my second book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness, is more of a lark. A rant, in fact, against all the (insert invective here) fireworks. And drinking. And general mayhem particular to colors red, white, and blue.
Hey. American or not, red or blue, too, Happy Fourth to you!
IT’S THE FOURTH OF JULY
by Ken Craft
and he’s listening to Oh Say Can You See in a sea of runners and an awakening 8 a.m. heat. The blue smell of Ben-Gay on the mentholated old guys & Axe on the sun-venerating young guys & armpit on the just-rolled-out-of-bed lazy guys & no one’s run a New Balance step yet. The ellipsis after the song’s last line is always a chant of USA! USA! USA! from the fun-run campers who must not read (at least footnotes) because they never feel the wet hand of irony in that disunited “U” running down their body-painted backs.
Jesus, but he bolts when the pistol goes, heat or no. On the course, though, he is passed by sausage-heavy middle-aged men & oxy-huffing retired men & stick-legged kids & women of all stars & stripes. Begrudge not, says the Bible, so he celebrates their speed or their youth, their fat or their fair sex—whatever hare-bodied thing there is to celebrate.
That night, after the picnic-table splinters & charred cheeseburgers, after the fries & bottles of we’re-out-of-ketchup, the fireworks mushroom into night clouds & umbrellas rain down hiss & heat sparkle, made-in-China reds, whites & blues. He cranes his neck, the skies soured with smoke & sulfur, holding tight the hand of his sweetheart.
Then it’s blessed be bed, after the grande finds its finale, only he is wakened by more (USA!) fireworks up the street (USA!) at 11:30 p.m. Still the holiday, after all, ignited by the undoubtedly drunk, after all, because booze is God-Bless-America’s drug of choice, after all. The outdoors explodes until midnight & he’s had about all he can stand lying down & cursed be Thomas Jefferson anyway, with his noble agrarian society & its whiskey rebellions & its pursuits of happiness & its God-given rights & its who-the-hell-are-you-to-tell-me, question comma rhetorical.
You know how this ends: It’s insomnia again. In the shallow, post-patriotic hours of the Fifth of July. Come cock-crow morning, on his walk, Fido sniffs the empty nips & plastic fifths along the sandy shoulder of sleepy roads. There’s even a patriotic Bud box, hollowed-be-its-name, white stars emblazoned on the blue of its crumpled carcass.
God bless America, he tells it.