Fourth of July

by Dorianne Laux

The neighborhood cringes behind windows
washed in magnesium light, streamers fizzling
above the shingled rooftop of the apartments
across the street where teenaged boys
with mannish arms throw cherry bombs,
bottle rockets, wings and spinners, snappers,
chasers, fiery cryolite wheels onto the avenue.
Paint flakes off the flammable houses
and onto brave square plots of white grass.
Rain-deprived vines sucker the shutters.
Backyard dogs tear at the dirt, cats
run flat out, their tails straight up.
What's liberty to the checkout girl
selling smokes and nuts, greenbacks
turning her fingers to grease? The boys
insist on pursuing happiness, their birthright:
a box of matches, crackers on strings,
sparklers, fountains, missiles, repeating shells,
Roman candles, Brazilian barrages.
We peek through blind slats to where they stand
around a manhole cover, the gold foam
of Corona bottles breaking at their feet,
young up-turned faces lit by large caliber
multi-shot aerials. We suffer each concussion,
the sulfer rush that smells like fear, each dizzy,
orgiastic display that says we love this country,
democracy, the right to a speedy trial. We're afraid
to complain, to cross the spent red casings
melted on asphalt in the morning's stunned
aftermath, to knock hard on any door, and find them
draped like dead men over the couches, the floor,
hands clasped behind their heads prison style,
shoulders tattooed, dreaming the dreams of free men
in summer, shirts off, holes in their jeans.