Yesterday a little girl got slapped to death by her daddy, out of work, alcoholic, and estranged two towns down river. America, it's hard to get your attention politely. America, the beautiful night is about to blow up and the cop who brought the man down with a shot to the chops is shaking hands, dribbling chaw across his sweaty shirt, and pointing cars across the courthouse grass to park. It's the Big One one more time, July the 4th, our country's perfect holiday, so direct a metaphor for war, we shoot off bombs, launch rockets from Drano cans, spray the streets and neighbors' yards with the machine-gun crack of fireworks, with rebel yells and beer. In short, we celebrate. It's hard to believe. But so help the soul of Thomas Paine, the entire county must be here--the acned faces of neglect, the halter-tops and ties, the bellies, badges, beehives, jacked-up cowboy boots, yes, the back-up singers of democracy all gathered to brighten in unambiguous delight when we attack the calm and pointless sky. With terrifying vigor the whistle-stop across the river will lob its smaller arsenal halfway back again. Some may be moved to tears. We'll clean up fast, drive home slow, and tomorrow get back to work, those of us with jobs, convicting the others in the back rooms of our courts and malls--yet what will be left of that one poor child, veteran of no war but her family's own? The comfort of a welfare plot, a stalk of wilting prayers? Our fathers' dreams come true as nightmare. So the first bomb blasts and echoes through the streets and shrubs: red, white, and blue sparks shower down, a plague of patriotic bugs. Our thousand eyeballs burn aglow like punks. America, I'd swear I don't believe in you, but here I am, and here you are, and here we stand again, agape.
urchins spread. They want enough room
on the seabed, along the black basaltic
jet of offshore reef, sun-pied, out-swept, or
down along the darker overcrowded
urchin barrens, to quiver their hundred-
plus spines and not encroach or be encroached
or preyed upon, pulled, ripped apart by the
wolf eel, the next-to-deadliest lurking
shadow in these waters. Are more black
than not, and move, when they move, “by means of
tiny, transparent, adhesive tube feet”
by the hundreds. Though they prefer to stay.
The barrens are their own creation. Such
hunger, such efficient self-replication,
they tend to nullify what other lives
would abound in other seas. Black dandelions,
they’re like a small explosion stilled; or
like that red-bloomed scrub bush in the cactus
gardens near our house, more scarlet than red,
whose name we haven’t learned, flaring at each
air-breath like hair, so soft yet erect in
the afternoon burn like underwater
shimmers of the urchins themselves, lit red.
And red your foot—within a minute of
your step and cry—we tried to heal with cool
seawater poured over; and scrubbed the four
last snapped-off spines; then sat there on the shore.
Three boats went by. A yacht. The island
ferry hauling all the day’s workers home.
Then, come night, was that a liner or our
local trash scow, far out, low-lit? You can see
the phosphorescent wake five miles from space.