American Life in Poetry: Column 484


I’m especially fond of sparklers because they were among the very few fireworks we could obtain in Iowa when I was a boy. And also because in 2004 we set off the fire alarm system at the Willard Hotel in Washington by lighting a few to celebrate my inauguration as poet laureate. Here’s Barbara Crooker, of Pennsylvania, also looking back.


We’re writing our names with sizzles of light
to celebrate the fourth. I use the loops of cursive,
make a big B like the sloping hills on the west side
of the lake. The rest, little a, r, one small b,
spit and fizz as they scratch the night. On the side
of the shack where we bought them, a handmade sign:
Trailer Full of Sparkles Ahead, and I imagine crazy
chrysanthemums, wheels of fire, glitter bouncing
off metal walls. Here, we keep tracing in tiny
pyrotechnics the letters we were given at birth,
branding them on the air. And though my mother’s
name has been erased now, I write it, too:
a big swooping I, a hissing s, an a that sighs
like her last breath, and then I ring
belle, belle, belle in the sulphuric smoky dark.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Barbara Crooker from her most recent book of poems, Gold, Cascade Books, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Barbara Crooker and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2016 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.