Before the brilliant images fade, the way fireworks do almost the moment they explode, a kind of cotton candy for the eyes, image like flavor evaporating almost on perception, I want to capture some of what happened at Portland’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration. One moment I especially want to hold on to.
When all our family’s activity, a kind-of-drive to busyness, almost out of fear of stillness and what might be found in it: my daughter on her Blackberry, one grandson reading a book or text-messaging, and, of course, the youngest grandson, for whom perpetual motion is natural, his unstoppable 5-year-old curiosity and energy, one moment asking a seamless stream of questions – “Why do boats float? How do spiders know how to make a web?” – the next moment interpreting the world for us –“The water from my bathtub goes into the sea, it does! When the Sun comes up, it’s light blue, lighter blue, lighter blue, lighter blue … That’s what happens!” – his chatter like the song of a mockingbird – all of us in motion like this on a scrap of blanket, except my wife, all serene attention before the darkening sky, before us a galaxy of boat lights on Casco Bay, all around endless meadows of people the length of the Eastern Promenade – all this dropped away when the first rocket burst, raining streams of fire and light, the Portland Symphony playing the finale to the 1812 Overture.
For the next half hour, blooming forms high against the night hold us, hold the attention and breath of most of Portland. Yet what lives in me luminously aren’t fireworks but another moment for its stillness, the way perhaps the deep silence of seeds hold their own gardens of Peonies, Chrysanthemums, Glittering Palms, Dahlias …
The day before the Fourth, I was stopped by the photograph of a friend lounging on a plush couch, his twins, 3 or 4 years old, asleep in his arms, and I felt the loss of such boundary-less, intimate moments with my own daughter, now more than 40 years past the age of the twins in the photograph. When she looked up to the night sky to see the first rocket burst above, she seemed to forget herself, leaned back to watch the fireworks, unselfconsciously resting against me, her head on my shoulder a way I hadn’t experienced since her childhood. My wife rested along the other side, her head on that shoulder. The 5-year-old also lay back, stretching across my stomach, the other grandson, 15, just beyond reach, the four of us together like that, without boundaries, in a way I no longer imagined I could hold them all so close at the same time.
Afterword: Life is not unlike the trajectory of a rocket and certainly has the velocity of one when with a 5-year-old. Beware of what shines, what glows in the dark. Excited by his first fireworks, enthralled, a little worried – “Are they fire? Will they reach us?” – he bit into one of those flexible plastic light sticks sold as July 4th souvenirs, leaped to his feet and, at the finale of the Portland Symphony’s “America the Beautiful” and culminating crescendo of the fireworks display, threw up in our midst.
“Only mildly toxic,” a calming voice at Poison Control assured his mother. “Just go on and enjoy your evening.” He’d spit out the small amount that had gotten into his mouth; but, “Bitter! Bitter!” he said. I told him I thought some chocolate ice cream would help, as we joined the crowds filling Congress Street on our way home. “It would,” he said, a sureness in his inflection.