The First Time I Nearly Fell

It was the fourth of July
and I was still a child.
At least, a child enough to be still enchanted

by the town celebration’s lemon shake-ups and bingo tent,
and the rare sense of belonging that I felt in our community—
eating pork-chop sandwiches and listening to live music—
’cause the whole town was there.

I wandered through Pells Park with my friends
or my siblings,
visiting the vendors’ booths featuring trinkets
of silver, and brightly-colored stickers, or bandanas
adorned with stars, stripes, and soaring eagles.

We always lingered longest at the stand
where the man sold pocket-knives, decorated with ten-point bucks
or fish flying mid-air over rapid streams.

I had enough money that year to buy one,
from my paper route and mowing yards.
I even had the chance to use it that day—

we went fishing before the fireworks,
a point of frustration for me
because it was a break from tradition.
I preferred the display right there in my hometown.

We had more family to consider—
the brothers and sisters of Mom’s boyfriend,
and all their children,
drove twenty miles each year

because “the fireworks are better
when they burst over water.”

Without much choice, I went along,
happy, at least
to catch and release a bass or two
before the sun sank on the other side of that small lake—
the side from which the night sky’s decorations would soon be launched.

Cars filled all of the available space
around the spectators’ side of the water.
People pulled lawnchairs out of their trunks and truck-
beds, or sleeping bags and afghan
blankets to lay on.

Coolers abound with beer and soda,
people grilled hot dogs while kids waved twinkling sparklers under trees.

That was about the time it happened—
it was too dark to fish and too light for fireworks,
and I lay down on my own little patch of ground.
Not too close to any particular group of people,
and at least fifty yards in any direction to the nearest tree.

I lay my head back on the ground and looked for
constellations I knew from encyclopedia pages,
out among the few stars that were beginning to shine
in the cloudless summer sky.

I forgot about the stars for a second
and thought about the whole world,
underneath me, behind my back.

In that moment, I lost my breath—

there was nothing keeping me from falling
into the vast, open sky in front of me.

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