Hour 18: The Last Time I Saw the Fireworks at St. Anthony Falls

We had staked out our spot

Before noon along the Upper Mississippi

With blankets, board games, and books

Baskets of spicy BBQ, eggy potato salad, and broccoli cole slaw

A cooler of lucious lemonade and salted watermelon

Waiting for dark and fireworks


In the lazy hours before nightfall

We welcomed visitors, friends and strangers,

sharing our baskets and games

and laughter


Some took short walks

To the Stone Arch Bridge

To watch the Marcy Homes parade

Of costumed kids riding bikes

With bright ribbons in their spokes

Or pulled in festooned red wagons

With signs celebrating

Their privileged freedom,


Some took long walks to see

Free Shakespeare in the Park

Gathering new friends along the way

Well worth the price


Whoever couldn’t take the heat

Rode the trolley to the movies

To relish in conditioned air


We feasted together

And separately

Close enough to watch the woodchucks playing along the banks

And see the boats passing St. Anthony Falls

Where the dam unlocked the waters so they could pass through


But we were not the first to see the lone small boat

Stuck at a bend before the Falls

Until the helicopter hovered above them

Then we saw

Two people – a couple –

Perched at the wrong point

Where any moment

They could be towed under


Someone had a radio

So we could hear how

The two boaters were

Not following directions

As rescuers tried to save them


We missed the long drama but

We witnessed the miracle

Of two squirming bodies rising into the sky

On lifelines

Like new life

Plucked from the wombs of death

Trailing umbilicals


After the celebration

And the anticipated sparkling display

Painting that night sky

We hurried home

To learn the woman was John’s sister

And her husband

Both deaf to our world

And their danger


I waited for John to write the story

crafty in his clever voice

so I could feel his sister’s every fears

and share her exhilarating joy

as she became the celebration

we saw against the sky


But he only told us how

They’d come to see the fireworks

And bask below the silent glow

Of liberation

before getting caught by the waterfall


When we came again to camp

along the river

and wait for the night,

owners had built barriers to keep


from their private lawn


we found a spot on.a small hard hill

but could not see the woodchucks

or even the shore;

we could not walk to Shakespeare

on the other side of the fence

nor could we find the trolley

hidden behind that curtain

of privilege;

there was no space to welcome strangers

inside our laughter,

now strained and contained


we ate sparingly without gusto

and left before dark

with half full baskets

knowing we’d already seen the best

of freedom

riding across the sky


we never came again

3 thoughts on “Hour 18: The Last Time I Saw the Fireworks at St. Anthony Falls

  1. What a story caught within these lines! The wonderful sense of coming together in celebration (my mouth was watering at the food!) and then the heart-stopping liberation of the folk trapped on their boat but being lifted, rescued, in a moment akin to rebirth. The image of their rising into the sky like some of the celebratory fireworks will stay in my imagination.

  2. I enjoy the pictures painted throughout the first two-thirds of the poem; and then my heart hurts with the final act
    I’ve been sitting here at my keyboard, wondering if I’d suggest removing the third act because it drags the poem from happy & drama & the rescue & positivity into sadness and disappointment…
    One part of me thinks this poem deserves to leave the reader with the sense of unity and the rescue of people that the writer was connected to in this small world where we’re all connected…
    Then another part of me thinks this poem has to go all the way and take us to the dark places where reality sucks and one person who isn’t “with” us can ruin unity for the rest of us…
    But I don’t want the poem ruined!
    I love the layers and senses and the hopefulness in seeing the couple rescued and then learning that they were connected to the writer…the selfish side of me doesn’t want that overshadowed.

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