When the traditional ship flares come out on Lake Cayuga on the Fourth of July, they’re close enough to the water line that you can see the curvature of the planet just three miles up-lake, where even little waves twinkle them out.
The moon is a big blunt object tonight but if there’s any menace it’s just from the kids pyroing flaming marshmallows around on sharp spikes. My wife and I sigh happily on the dock. “Customers who bought democracy also bought the movie Juno,” I mumble into her neck.
I’m eastbound out of Utica on the Amtrak looking for bits of the Erie Canal the way you’d scan for four-leaf clovers, but I’m also with her there on the dock last night and it’d be a shame to put it in the past tense for lack of a dozen hours. We’re staying here in time for a bit but moving in space.
A canoe flashframes on the adjacent Mohawk and I laugh/cry. Big men probably shouldn’t be entrusted with emotions. I get that giant feeling sometimes like I could run my fingers through the trees on the ridges.
The Beech-Nut factory flashframes soon after. Last seen by me when cars were big enough or we were small enough that we could stroll on the back seat and also live almost entirely inside one state, like nearby Massachusetts. My giant father passing Wrigley’s around, almost Beech-Nut gum.
The sun is strident in the train window but I’m also in the rearview of last night’s moon where objects appear larger.
Have you noticed how fireworks at a distance are a badly dubbed film with sight, sound, and emotion out of synch? But still the film is an old favorite. Hard liquor on the Fourth is proof through the night that our flag is still there. The concussive sound that lagtimes explosive sights is called a report. Reports are interpretive acts, like punctuation, but they pack some punch.
Briefly, then, this report just in from the ring finger of the Finger Lakes, those almost landlocked fiords and firths. I’ll file my report by the 14th—French independence day. Remember the French? During the war, one of those wars, we sent the French the usual diplomatic huffpuff, hoping to drum up a little cash or at least a backscratch. Must’ve sent that stuff to a lot of people. But four score and seven years later, the guy with the beard who started the really big war made out like the huffpuff was actually scripture, and so the Fourth of July was invented. Did I leave anything out?
The real fourth is one’s own.
Fourth’d begun with the usual call for magic from Liam, impossibly nine, the fourth member of our family. “Connive some cereal? Connive some milk?” says Liam in the eternal present. “Connive a spoon?” In the house of Ithacans, I baby him. Connive to entrap him in childhood. Plot rivers. Plead the Fourth.
Later above Butternut Falls, the others go ahead and we loll naked on a deadsmooth tree over the water. He leans on me and I cheat gravity by steadying myself on a branch unseen below. We tell each other how fierce the dragonflies are, or would be if they weren’t lolling as we are.
At the Ithaca farmer’s market, a sign echoes the zero-tolerance rhetoric of the paramilitaries and promises a zero pollution market. The gravel surface roils with a tumult of cars and trucks wilding a lone biker. But the children find trees over the water and frolic. “Every car smashed with an upthrust tree,” I say. The half-poet’s son Max is fifteen and rebuilding the world. “Cars as greenhouses,” he says. “No leaders,” I add, “no democracy. Censors eluded under cover of poetry. Signals flashing, even if prose is dismissed as ‘poetic’.” Hard truths sequestered, but getting out anyway, even without the use of aliases.
It’s America and almost everywhere we are driving and driving. A tank is parked thirty feet from the side of the road, with no sign on it. Farther along a Bible church, with too many signs. On smooth asphalt switchbacking into jade forest the ironists or pessimists have posted expensive yellow diamond-shaped signs reading Rough Road. One of the signs is knocked over, and we surge forward into the turns.
Our oldest is the stick figure of a giant, fill the rest in later. Sebastian, we said at his birth thirteen years ago. An excellent premise, that. Sebastian. In their westering car the family must be past Buffalo by now, I think. A puff of cotton in the air will signal the drop at Niagara if they’re not too i-tuned. My train is in Albany now, and I can almost hold in my head all the rivers and lakes soon to be between us. Humber Ontario Oswego Oneida Mohawk Hudson, I say without quotation marks, take me home. Sebastian’s great long paws caressing and finessing the electronics of the car out there somewhere, his gorgeous brown teeneyes giving nothing and everything away.
In Annandale-on-Hudson, amongst the poets and creative non-fictionists, I glance at the local paper. An article on the Statue of Liberty reopening its crown recaps the history of the monument without using the words “French” or “France,” which is like the Frenchman Georges Perec writing a book called “A Void,” not once using the letter “e,” and no one noticing.
Well, save a Bud for July 14, which is almost July 4. That’s the Sedition Act of 1798 if my googley’s not having me on, though I remember it as the Storming of the Bastille. If the Alien and Sedition Acts weren’t a trial run for the Homel… Sec… Act [poets write these things like this to avoid keyword searches from the man upstairs, like the way the Jews write G*d, heh heh] then I’m a monkey’s uncle. Plus ça change, as the French say, the more things change the more they stay the same.
The point is, what goes around, comes around. In love, so with the planet. If you can feel the Earth’s curve from flares at the waterline just three miles out, imagine what a tight little curve we live on. Imagine tight curves. Switchings back. Caressings. Imagine how close we are, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
As the Abbot and Costello skit almost has it, Nobody’s on fourth, because that’s home.
DAVID Ker THOMSON wishes to thank the many readers who helped with the Abbot and Costello references in recent articles. He filed this from Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Dave.Thomson@utoronto.ca