July 4


Black chaps and heavy hats did us in.
98 degrees and plastic straps chafed
pimply chins, holding all that absurd
pageantry in place. After the drumming
we stood shifting while guns shattered—
a random scream: Remember Vietnam!
To drive the death from our ears, we ate
corn-on-the-cob, potato salad,
ice-cream cranked from buckets with salt-
padded sides. Men drained tall cans.
Factories stopped grinding. We flung
ourselves head-first down Slip ‘n Slides.


Crashing in Brooklyn: Garfield Street,
pre-gentrification. Sweaty bodegas,
random gunshots, A&S Pork, Rocky’s
Pizza. I slipped out for a slice and a bottle
rocket skimmed my toes. I hauled laundry
to the corner and a roman candle singed
my shoulder. And finally it struck me–
what these fireworks mummered.


On President Street we steamed up the roof-
top while bootleg Italian shows threw down
below– rattling our lungs loose in our chests,
filling our nostrils–all smoke and thick,
whistling screams. Our tongues traded casualties:
ash, grit, Schlitz, Snapple. My legs straddled
you, the water tower, the whole East River.


I don’t want to see one more bloody missile.
I am sick from seeing. I turn off
the television, open Cooking Down East.
Nana’s marginalia dresses Classic
American Potato Salad. Add vinegar first,
then other seasonings. Grate, don’t mince
the Victory onions. Wipe knife
and board so as not to cry.


Chris chops ramp for potato salad.
I rake daffodils finally died
to the ground. Ditch lilies orange
the turf-grass, mint-scent pricks
my mind: Last night I was raped
in a dream. I washed the key
evidence away. Come judgment
day, the jury was made up
of all the men I had ever fucked
over and the judge was the bastard
himself. He saddled a smirk
to my back. My wrists he tied behind.


Manhattan Beach

Burnt marshmallows. Gulls garbled. Clouds:
a vacant rib cage, coccyx, vestigial tail.
Residual nubs on razor-swiped thighs.
No swimming after heavy rain. Sewage
plays. The lifeguard’s all juicy & high
tanned cheekbones. I want his eyes, his sun-
screened white lips. Ear to sand, a digging in
of heels. Two blankets down, a couple grinds
to bits: he grunts day-um, she squeals shee-it.
A boy practices hurling fuck. This is the city.
It is almost 6:00. Beach yawns, swallows.
I want clams & cold beer. Clams upon clams,
whole necks of them, slimy gray organs,
obscene as porno, puckered with lemon
sting, horseradish, grit. An albino
gull parties on a scrap of Mr. Softee.
How much for happy? Less than you’d think.
~ ~ ~

Lissa Kiernan is the author of Glass Needles & Goose Quills and Two Faint Lines in the Violet, and is the founding director of the West Hurley’s Poetry Barn, a literary center offering workshops, readings, retreats, and an independent poetry lending library.