A lyrical, critical, and satirical gazette about our world.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Bombs bursting in air! What an image! Whistling rockets, noise like gunshots, fiery flora against the black of night, ghostly clusters with trails of smoke, and the acrid odor of overheated chemicals. An incendiary incitement to jingoistic fervor—fireworks. Some of us, the people of the United States of America, may think our "Independence Day" is unique for its pyrotechnic celebration, but they would be wrong. People around the world have been touching flame to fuse for various and numerous occasions since the Chinese invented gunpowder: the Pooram and Diwali festivals in India, Guy Fawkes Day in England, Halloween in Ireland, Canada Day, the Malta International Fireworks festival, the Pyrotechnics Guild International convention, New Year, and countless occasions from birth to death that rationalize the rockets red glare.

In the USA the inspiration for filling our nightskies with a multitude of exploding lights on July Fourth was the War of 1812. Although we probably blew up things in celebration from the first American colonial holidays, that particular conflict among our score of battles and skirmishes throughout history set the tradition for the future. So when Francis Scott Key wrote those cloying lines to an old English drinking song during that war, he ignited a latent desire in our human hearts to celebrate violence with a bang. How apt. Art mirrors life; that is, if a fireworks display can be considered art. One thing for sure, it reflects in lesser magnitude the ordnance of military combat. So let us look at this event for its redundant reality. The burning accelerant, bombs, rockets, and sundry detonation devices disperse heavy metals, sulfur-coal compounds, and other toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. The loud snap-bang-boom noises terrify dogs, cats, birds, and other living things and distress humans sensible and smart enough to know a dangerous event when they see, hear, and smell it.

Nonetheless, millions of people gather when the sun goes down to gawk at a region of low altitude, expectant of an enormous show of ostensibly innocuous firepower against the nocturnal firmament. Planets, stars, moons, meteor showers, and boreal lights are not immediately violent enough to stimulate the peculiarly human penchant for things that blast and burn in garish colors. Makes one wonder if a cosmic event would attract such an avidly dedicated response. Just imagine it.

One of the many giant asteroids that shoot past Earth at varying distances heads straight for our ball in space. Upon entering our stratosphere, it breaks into pieces, each one the size of a mountain, and catches fire. These massive piles spread apart just enough to strike the planet in different places. When they hit the surface, they explode with a force
millions of times the power of the fission bomb we dropped on Hiroshima. Those that hit the oceans form tsunamis a thousand feet high that suck the surf off the shores, roll like juggernauts across miles of open sea, and then crash into coastlines, engulfing cities and washing them clean of everything not permanently grounded. Those that hit land blast soil, rock, structures, and living things, hundreds of feet into the air, obliterate the light of the sun, choke the atmosphere with debris and gases, igniting all combustible substances and disintegrating everything not already swept away by the flood. The cataclysmic combination of noise, wind, dust, and heat eliminates most remnants of life on the planet. For days, months, decades afterward Earth is a dark, intemperate, wasteland, silent but for the endless winds that whip the devastated surface of the once magnificent blue-white orb of life. That would be the ultimate fireworks display, worthy of the hand of a god. What a spectacle to behold! If only we could survive it!

How ironic that we enjoy playing in miniature with the elements of catastrophe. Apparently we are not satisfied with the disasters of wildfire, lightning strikes, war, or cosmic events. We like to blow things up for any occasion, even if it means polluting our world with noise and lethal fumes, terrifying our fellow creatures, and even hurting ourselves. How many children have lost fingers, hands, hearing, and sight because of this irrational activity disguised as merriment?

Maybe the crazy act of blowing things up and watching the explosion with glee signifies our profound suicidalism. We are the only self-destructive species. How interesting that we over-populate our planet yet simultaneously seek to eliminate ourselves. More than a celebration of life, fireworks are a flamboyant signification of our fascination with the forces that cause death. Of course fire can indirectly cause renewed life but it more often causes destruction. Setting off explosives does nothing for our quality of life but it certainly degenerates it.

When multiple bombs burst into spectral bloom over our upturned heads, we utter sounds of awe and amazement but we do not connect the fallout from those profane flowers to the unpleasant effects on our being. Particle pollutants in the air we breathe cause many adverse health conditions from eye irritation to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as others of which we may not be aware, yet we cheer whenever we see a crackling cause for such toxicity burst upon the evening. Surely, we will not perish en masse from fireworks but every time we set them off we spark the fuse of our extinction, real and symbolic. Sooner or later we will perish as a species, either by our own hand or by the divine power of nature. Each time we send a rocket into the air we are signaling that complete demise. When that finally happens, it may not be the last gleaming of twilight on Earth, but one fact is certain—our flags will not be there.

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