Monday, May 23, 2011

Jan Steckel

Declaration of Independence

Jambalaya, beans and hotdogs,
barbecued beef, baked spaghetti, potato salad,
little kids dressed to their ankles
in soaked grown-up's T-shirts
splashing in the backyard wading pool
didn't bring bathing suits
beaded hair swinging
old folks playing spades under the awning.

We climb up on the garage
find an old sky-fallen brand
on the tarpaper from last year's fireworks.
Good thing we're up here tonight
to hurl any burning shards of sparkle
from the eighty-year-old roof.

The Oakland police have posted
notices for a week now:
Fireworks are illegal and dangerous
and will not be tolerated.
But the 'hood says Fuck you,
catch us if you can!
Kids run from block to block.
Teenagers lift faces out of
unpermitted in-law apartments
in back of every third house,
little houses that grow and grow
without the city's building permit blessing
crazy little idiosyncratically landscaped xericulture.
No neighborhood rules here,
no conventions agreed upon by the committee,
no covenants.
The houses grow organically,
and the colors of the paint
are brighter than tasteful.

To the north, the Oakland hills
watch primly and with disapproval.
No fireworks in the Laurel District--
too many anxious yuppies there
ready to call the cops.
They've buzzed about it
on their listserv for weeks.
But in my marginal neighborhood,
the Allendale,
that's where the fun starts.

Dogs run frantically as street fireworks
pop like popcorn, slow at first,
then cluster faster.
All the cats disappear
cowering somewhere as rapid fire bursts
take over the night, fusillades
as though an entire town
were lined up against a wall
and shot.

South and east of us
where poverty spreads
the ghetto joyfully explodes
like a carpet of desert wildflowers.

Filipino children in the next block
see our silhouettes against the moonlit dusk
and shoot Chinese fireworks directly over us.
We lie on our backs
and peer through our fingers
at coruscating light-showers
like great golden eyes shattering down onto us.

Tonight, the celebration begins
on International Avenue where they'd be
shooting off rifles into the air if they could
and all around
white dazzle
violet shimmer
blue glimmer.
The rocket's red glare
green gleam, gold glow,
bombs bursting,
for these are the people
whose sons and brothers
fight in Iraq.

Acrid scent of sulphur and saltpeter
wisps of cloud in darkened air
and haze on the ground.
Whistling palm bursts, emerald comets,
silver flying fish with aqua crackle
shrieking orange and ear-splitting tirade
of banshee stars.
Lemon incandescence, chartreuse fountains,
phantom candles, bottle rockets,
whirring acrobatic silver spinners
bloom like little death-flowers
taking fingers with them,
but oh the beauty
the gasp of momentary pleasure
the twinkling, the glittering,
the hisses, moans, pops, cracks and crackles,
like bubble paper popping,
timpani thunder like sonic booms.
Roman candles, sparklers, whirlers, flying snakes,
whistling comets with gold tails,
waterfalls and rings,
chrysanthemum bursts--

Shine, shine
you ghetto flowers,
you barrio blossoms,
spawn of slaves
and brats of immigrants
who shout tonight
in titanium flash
and silver dragons breathing
radiating streaks of flame
and wheels of exploding blue and ruby stars,


  1. That was beautiful Jan! I loved the detail you included, it really made me feel like I was there, thanks so much for sharing this with me, I loved it!

  2. Very nice poem, Jan. It made me hungry, like a good poem should...and eager to climb up on that 80-year-old roof some day with you.

  3. Heavy weight poet. Jan you still inspire me greatly. I Love this poem and did read it thrice. Its like a gift of knowledge.

  4. This poem is bursting with life and energy like firecrackers. It has beauty, feeling, compassion, and completely captured me. Great work, Jan!

  5. That was a wonderful poem Jan! I simply loved it!

  6. I enjoyed the storytelling aspect of this poem, the way you told a story as you were unfolding all the images. Nice structure! It evoked the different neighborhoods well.

  7. This is a beautiful poem. It not only presents a neighborhood celebration in vivid sensuous detail, it celebrates the vividness of it, and thereby presents a kind of patriotic sentiment that has nothing to do with the official propaganda.

  8. Hey Jan,
    Great poem. I live in the Allendale section of Oakland, too. You should be our official neighborhood poet--you capture the flavor of our home so well.
    Keep writing and keep sharing. Have a great summer.

  9. Too many gorgeous phrases to list, but among my favorites:

    lemon incandescence, chartreuse fountains,
    coruscating light-showers
    pop like popcorn,
    crazy little idiosyncratically landscaped xericulture


  10. I love the way this poem turns after the first stanza with familiar 4th of July images to something totally unexpected, AND beautiful and dangerous and AMERICAN!!!

  11. Wonderful poem full of energy and imagery. I love the exhortation "Shine ghetto flowers" et al.
    A stunner

  12. Superb Poem- stunning imagery- powerful emotional tone- a winner

  13. Wow, I love this gorgeous poem! I know Oakland well, and this poem captures the spunky lively spirit of the place, exactly.

  14. Jan, you paint life with brilliant colors, and I was really moved by this poem!

  15. Very lush cityscape, Jan. Full of life. Thank you! Andrew

  16. A truly excellent poem! Made my day.

  17. I'll try again to post a comment! Great poem..felt like I was there!

  18. I could practically feel and hear this moment. My favorite lines:
    "We lie on our backs
    and peer through our fingers
    at coruscating light-showers
    like great golden eyes shattering down onto us."
    Thanks for sharing this.

  19. This is a magnificent portrait of Oakland.
    This is how it really is.
    Beautiful and wonderful in it’s own way.

  20. Well done Jan for this magnificent poem, I hope that you win! It begins with some gorgeous imagery and and social cultural description,bringing you right in close to the world that you are writing to us about and then you bring in the real meaning of your poem, suddenly in a way, and it hooks you right in. I found your poem moving and surprising in a way that many poems are not. A great feat, thanks!

  21. One hopes that the people of the Allendale inherit this crazy nation. One vote for "Declaration of Independence."

  22. Hi Jan,
    I felt like I was right there!!! Great job!

  23. This captures the sights, sounds, and feelings of the events described, making me feel as if, like the poet, I am there witnessing them.

  24. That was beautiful. Such vivid imagery, I lived it as I read it. Thank you.

  25. Creates a sense of time and place well worth experiencing. I'm so glad Brian S. made me aware of your work.

  26. There are so many layers to this poem that I love -- the food, the freedom, and, especially the fireworks! Thank you for this, Jan!

  27. Great imagery. I can feel the sultriness of attitudes, food, and Allendale's caught-in-between perspective. Really nice job.

  28. You captured Oakland in all its hot, sweaty messiness and character indeed.

  29. from Mary Torregrossa: Wow-this poem is a dense as a city street on a hot summer night when nobody wants to stay inside. Lots of good lines and language. Like the one right in the middle, "No neigborhood rules here." Kind of like free-verse poetry itself. I'd like to see the poem without the last two lines at the end. The poem already shouts with images of freedom throughout. With a little final revision this poem is/will be an epic!

  30. from Michelle Angelini: Good poem describing in detail past summers, emotions, and fireworks. I like the pov from the different neighborhoods.

  31. Great details, Jan!
    I love your imagery and sense of place!

  32. Yes! What they all said. A wonderful poem!