American life in poetry

SUNDAY, JULY 6, 2014

I’m especially fond of sparklers because they were among the very few fireworks we could obtain in Iowa when I was a boy. And also because in 2004 we set off the fire alarm system at the Willard Hotel in Washington by lighting a few to celebrate my inauguration as poet laureate. Here’s Barbara Crooker, of Pennsylvania, also looking back.


We’re writing our names with sizzles of light

to celebrate the fourth. I use the loops of cursive,

make a big B like the sloping hills on the west side

of the lake. The rest, little a, r, one small b,

spit and fizz as they scratch the night. On the side

of the shack where we bought them, a handmade sign:

Trailer Full of Sparkles Ahead, and I imagine crazy

chrysanthemums, wheels of fire, glitter bouncing

off metal walls. Here, we keep tracing in tiny

pyrotechnics the letters we were given at birth,

branding them on the air. And though my mother’s

name has been erased now, I write it, too:

a big swooping I, a hissing s, an a that sighs

like her last breath, and then I ring

belle, belle, belle in the sulphuric smoky dark.

Poem copyright 2013 by Barbara Crooker from “Gold” (Cascade Books, 2013), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


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