Poetry from Tony Longshanks LeTigre

“Happy Fourth, baby,”
said a woman I didn’t know,
as we passed one another on the Hawthorne bridge
(See, being nice is cool:
you Californians should try it some time*)
This isn’t usually my thing, either—
this jingoistic pageant of stars & stripes
& children with cherrybombs making more noise than usual
& “God Bless the USA” blaring from the publicly funded
& ridiculously underutilized PA system
(Let me pick the music next time—
“Rocket,” by Goldfrapp, shimmering over the water
as the fireworks display crests to its climax!)
Truth be told, I prefer the geese sailing serenely
breastdown on the water to the braying obnoxiousness of human beings;
birds, like most sensible critters,
for all their euphonious prolixity at the ripe hours,
also evince a respect for silence that a writer can’t fail to admire
But for once, I’m going to check all the baggage of my discontent
at the star-spangled door & go with the gaudy flow,
because it’s damn near 100 degrees,
& the river feels like the ocean on Maui,
& they say it’s safe to swim in now,
since they figured out that pumping raw sewage 
& dubious chemicals into the city’s water main liquid artery
—source of all life & our most precious resource—
was probably a bad idea

So I spent the day drinking wine & reading about the end
of marijuana prohibition (“Party Like it’s 1934”) in the sizzling sun—
wondering, will they top things off tonight with a green rocket
that goes up & then explodes into a huge fabulous
seven-point ganja leaf that fills the sky?
When the police boats began kicking everyone off the water at sundown,
I withdrew from my beachside perch into the shade,
inside the fenced area where we weren’t supposed to be,
& waited… 
took a drink,
& waited…
took a leak,
& waited…
watched them bully all the other boats & swimmers off the dock,
back behind the Marquam Bridge, a safe distance from the action barge…
then, by cover of darkness, I crept back down,
for the most dramatic incendiary spectacle of my life so far:
a night that will make me love fireworks
Picture this: you’re at the water’s edge, in the warm summer air,
with the Portland skyline across the water,
& the big barge maybe 100 yards,
not more than 200 yards,
away on the river’s rippling surface,
as the cops blare Cease & Desist slogans through their megaphones
(“the fire marshal won’t allow anyone in this area,
you’ve got to get behind the fence!”),
& chase off the last recalcitrant boats—
well, what the fire marshal doesn’t know
won’t hurt them
A blond boy comes down to my private beachfront spot,
calls to his friend—“hey, check this out, it’s a dope-ass spot!
it’s tough to get down here, though”—
yes, it is tough, indeed—you probably won’t make it
“there’s a better spot just a little bit that way,”
I tell him, pointing to the left
(totally making it up—because I don’t want to share)
But then some girls from somewhere else—
Kazakhstan? I might wildly guess—
come down, followed by two young boys,
then a dude with his girlfriend & a jug of hooch,
& I realize I will have to share
& what I think will be bad at first
(they’ll spoil the peace with clamor & jabber!
their cellphones & flashlights will alert the police!
it was perfect when I had it all to myself!)
turns out to be fine, even fun—
a fairly sweet example of spontaneous human harmony
The fireworks are big & dazzling
& the sounds they make even more so:
ricocheting DopplerEffectlike down the river canal
& off the sides of skyscrapers glinting in star- & lamplight;
I try to set a good example of respectable dudely discretion
for the young guys: sitting mostly silent, using no bright lights,
drinking occasionally, quickly, directly from the bottle,
neither hiding nor flaunting my public alcohol consumption
“Thanks, man,” one of the young dudes says,
acknowledging my coolness,
as we fight our way back up the steep slope
among tree roots & tumbled concrete
after the show is over
“Not bad,” I say, & “Have a good night,”
but I’ve already had one—
feeling that though I have nothing,
I am part of everything—
& for the first time I like
the Fourth of July

3 thoughts on “Poetry from Tony Longshanks LeTigre

  1. Very detailed and visual. It reminds me of what it’s like to be among a crowd to celebrate an event. It brings back good memories.

  2. Fun poem!! I like the contrast between irreverence and celebrating this major public holiday here in the US. I used to live in PDX so love “seeing” the scenery and the scene so to speak in this poem.

  3. A very unusual poem for 4th of July. I liked the visuals and could almost find myself right there. Your way of bringing this poem to such a wonderful climax is great. My 4th of July poem is quite traditional but you might like to read it.

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