We are hungry, so hungry we could eat the whole world. Everything smells like ketchup. We could eat the trees, we could eat the sun. The glass lights on the deck twinkle like little candy stars, and we could eat them too.
We are eating America’s birthday cake. We rock the chairs, rock the world, rocking Grandma’s porch swing back and forth. The chains pull and we sing, happy birthday! Happy birthday! We kick our little legs and scream at the summer, aching for America to hear us.
I grab my youngest cousin and say, let me teach you how to dance. Her dress is red, my dress is white, our laughter is blue. Let’s sundance, no, let’s moondance, while Van Morrison sings, and we spin in dizzy circles as the colors melt like wax into purple over the trees.
She and I fall onto the grass and put our ears to the ground. We want to hear the earth’s heart beating. The hot air feels like syrup, and my arm is resting over my dress. My cousin’s hair is splayed into dark curtains over her face.
“What does it sound like?” I ask. We are quiet.
My cousin looks at me. “It sounds like dirt.”
I press my ear harder, and I hear it too. The dirt heart of the earth.
We dance again, hungry for everything but the dirt. It’s not because it’s dirt. We could eat the whole world easily, take bites out of the mountains and the oceans, but we could never eat someone’s heart.
The grown-ups come over and tell us to sit still. Here, we’re fixing your spangled star-clips. Now there’s America in our hair.
We look over the trees. There’s America in the sky! Can’t you see it, it’s right there? Boom, there it goes again! It bursts like rocket ships, like soda bottles, like colored heated kernels. America is popcorn, and we want to eat it too.
My youngest cousin holds my hand.
When the fireworks are over, we are still hungry, our mouths wide open. But it’s dark outside now. The grown-ups say it’s way past our bedtime.
There’s nothing left to eat here but firework ashes. They fall onto our faces as we leave, but the grown-ups don’t notice. We are children, close to the ground, close to the dirt, and we blow them out like fizzling candles until America’s next birthday.
Emily Clemente is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.