It Must Have Been the Fourth of July

It must have been the fourth of July,
dusk in Lansing, the same fireworks we saw
years earlier, in Delaware with E & K,
when something went wrong
with the explosives, the wind—
and bits of debris rained down on us
while we shielded the children
in our laps. As we were leaving,
I saw a man at an emergency station
leaning back as a nurse washed out his eyes.

You were such a little girl then.
Now, you can reach the shelf that’s just
a little too high for me. You take the bus
all over the city, riding further and further
away from the girl in my memory,
and not understanding why I am so afraid.
You weren’t there when the boys
disappeared, when the man tried to pull me
into the waiting white van.
I want to rescue you from disaster,
raise my arms over your face the way K did
that night in Delaware.

But then, we go on living. We go on
as best we can, and sometimes there is
the fourth of July in Lansing,
with good friends and a picnic dinner
spread out on a red-checked cloth,
the crippling thoughts temporarily at bay
in the clear night air, and your pregnant aunt—
or is it me, sitting there, carrying you? or you,
someday, pregnant with your own child?—
glowing like a beacon in the moonlight.

Leah Browning is the author of three nonfiction books for teens and pre-teens (Capstone Press) and two chapbooks: Picking Cherries in the Española Valley (Dancing Girl Press, 2010) and Making Love to the Same Man for Fifteen Years (Big Table Publishing, 2009). Browning’s fiction, poetry, essays, and articles have previously appeared in a variety of publications including Queen’s Quarterly, 42opus, Blood Orange Review, and Tipton Poetry Journal, as well as on a broadside from Broadsided Press, on postcards from the program Poetry Jumps Off the Shelf, and in several anthologies. In addition to writing, Browning serves as editor of the Apple Valley Review. Her personal website is located at

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