July 4th, 2013 - Ron Singer

My wife and I subway-ed up to Ninety-Sixth
to avoid the midtown crush.
Our ride was smooth --the tracks had been fixed--
so the plan panned out, when shove came to push.
Up on the street, we joined a moving crowd
that had a certain edge, a buzz or hum.
But there were no fireworks yet: no fistfights,
not even bad language, vulgar or loud.
Instead, we shared a quiet sense of fun,
hundreds of us lit by Cobra Head lights.

West toward the river, an amoeboid mass,
we flowed. “The People,” so-called,
and others from the so-called “middle class”
--New Yorkers, celebrated for our cool,
though Tea Party types who saw us on the news
might have scoffed, “Lukewarm patriots, go home!”
Well, we might have been wilder, crazier,
if not for all the gizmos soothing us:
the chattering classes, on smart or dumb phones,
captured by the cell-phone paparazzi.

Our uptown epicenter was a fence
at the river-edge of the park.
Arriving, we waited for dark, intense,
but still in control, gathered for a lark,
not a rave. Things must have been hotter
at Thirty-Fourth Street, where the barges stood
ready to shoot their wads into the sky,
poised for the big pyrotechnic riot.
Police cars dashed by, as if they were on cue,
wailing, careening down Riverside Drive.

Along the high fence stood half our number.
The rest --couples, families--
sprawled on blankets, sat on umbrella chairs,
with a sprinkling of elders, including me,
all the way up the sloping lawn that ends
at the Drive. We were the leisurely class,
a statistically significant group.
Too lazy, perhaps, to wait at the fence,
some of us turned as the police cars sped past,
and a hurrying ambulance or two.

Between the nodes of our group, in empty
space, I lay on the grass, myself,
blanket-less, up near the top, my head resting
on a cruller-like cushion, my head shelf.
In the midst of lavish picnics, I sighed.
But no one was cooking, so I could endure
the mounds of salad, chicken and fruit.
Mostly soda, juice were being imbibed,
for alcohol was not permitted here.
But some folks had slipped in beer, wine or booze. 

As in the old Elizabethan Age,
the choice vantages were those
up here where we were, farthest from the stage.
Back in those days, if you stood too close,
you might have been accosted by thugs, whores
and cutpurses. At last, full darkness fell,
and, like a firecracker string, from midtown
all the way up the river, a mighty roar
heralded the show. The excitement swelled.
Even the moon seemed to tremble, unbound.

As the picnickers on the lawn stumbled
to their feet, from the fence
my wife gestured to me, and I tumbled
down the slope. To my surprise, the crowd, denser
now than before, politely let me pass.
The view at the river was excellent,
unimpeded by the bends in the shore.
There I was, reunited with my spouse,
our noses, like hundreds', pressed to the fence.
In the crowd behind us stood three or four

young women, African-Americans,
all on high alert After ten
minutes, one whined, “There aren’t any blue ones.
Why aren’t there any blue ones?”  “Listen
to (So-and-So)! She’s never satisfied!”
chanted her sisters. Satisfied, myself,
with the usual display filling the sky
--crossettes, willows, chrysanthemums, spring shells,
diadems, star bursts, peonies, round shells--
I wondered if the whiner saw the blue lights

on the careening police cars. Honestly,
though, most people on the Fourth of July
don’t watch the lights on police cars --except me.
Was I the only one who saw them go by?
And then, without warning, the show was done.
“Is that it? No climax, no grand finale?”
complained a local, well-dressed white lady
who was, perhaps, a supporter of some
worthy causes. The cause of her sally
was overkill: in fact, the whole display

had been the climax, like one of those bad
productions of King Lear, when he starts
to rant at the opening curtain and
never lightens up, turning the great part
into a one-liner. But to opine,
myself, looking back, anti-climactic
though the July Fourth, 2013
show was, it could have been so by design,
the overkill, a strategic tactic
in reaction to recent history.

Had not the Boston Marathon bombers,
two months before, killed three, maimed
hundreds more? So was it any wonder
that, like the spectators, this show seemed lame?
And I’m sure I am not the only one
to think of that. Still, on this July Fourth,
2013, the dispersing crowd
went home feeling we’d had the usual fun.
As we caught our trains, heading south or north,
we had no real complaint. Yet a gray cloud

of smoke from the spectacle was blowing
--although it blew away from us--
directly toward our daughter’s Brooklyn home,
where, hopefully, she had the windows shut.
Simultaneously, we thought of her,
so (joining the ranks of the chattering
classes, after all) I took out my cell
and speed-dialed her number: no answer.
We hoped she was out drinking, or nattering
away with a friend. We hoped she was well.

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Poems by Ron Singer (www.ronsinger.net) have appeared in many e-zines, newspapers, and journals. His published books are A Voice for My Grandmother, The Second Kingdom, The Rented Pet, and Look to Mountains, Look to Sea. He recently completed three trips to Africa for Uhuru Revisited: Interviews with Pro-Democracy Leaders (Africa World Press/Red Sea Press, forthcoming). His serial thriller, Geistmann, is available at jukepopserials.com, and both his fiction and poetry have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes.