Friday, January 22, 2010

The Fence


Our city street is all lit up tonight.
Fireworks are booming in the sky.
Tiny chips of broken glass
sparkle in the sidewalks
with each burst of streaming light.
Neighbors celebrate with loud voices
and sit on stoops laughing and waving
across to one another.
Most live in five story railroad flats
jammed with over flowing children
and one tiny bathroom.

Tonight, no breezes flow.
The old women cool themselves
with paper fans and watch the men
turn into kids, lighting firecrackers
drinking beers.

It's a hot, hot summer night in 1951
and I am eight . . .
the 4th of July and there is no stopping it.

A black picket fence curves around the stoop
where a little boy climbs up to see
Uncle Charlie's bright red rocket
bursting high up in the air
filling the sky with streaming glitter.

His small body slips instead onto a long
black spiral that stands erect on the iron fence
guarding the building from thieves.
Everyone's talking, eating . . . laughing
No one takes notice of the little boy
hanging, speechless, breathless . . . suspended
on the picket fence
open-mouthed, grey faced . . . silent.

My little sister sees him!
"Help!!" she cries.
"Look at him! Look at David!

Screams leap high above the laughter.
His mother comes. She's running with the baby
on her hip . . . "David! Oh, God! David . . . Don't move!"
"Call an ambulance . . . Somebody please!"
Silence intervenes and whispers all around
"Don't lift him."
Blood is trickling down on the pavement.
"Don't lift him!"

His mother is pasty white.
Her eyes latched onto David's pain
"I'm here. Don't be afraid."
She strokes his head . . . "Don't move"
The silence . . . hands cover mouths
The fence . . . now a black iron spiral stuck in his lung
The laughter . . . nowhere, only sobs
Sirens . . . flashing down the street.
and Uncle Charlie's bright red rocket has landed
burnt and black
while the boy and his mother wait
for the arms that will lift him
the white coats ready to take him away
from one city street on the 4th of July.

Joanne Cucinello 2009

Note: The child survived after weeks in the hospital
and no one ever tried to climb that fence again.


  1. Oh, Joanne...this is stark, but written with kindness and empathy! Such a horrible scene from a celebration...Very well done.

  2. Thank you, as always, Margaret. Just returned from vacation and saw your kind comment.
    I hope you've been well and continuing your valuable spirit work. . . so needed by all.


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