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,
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,
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
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
The rocket's red glare
green gleam, gold glow,
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,
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,
WE ARE AMERICANS
AND WE ARE FREE!