Sparklers

By Peter Halstead

Come forth you bugs and be July'd,
Halogen'd and vitrified,
Dance around the cones and rods
Of your fiber-optic gods,
Tree limbs tinseled on the wind,
Table lamps Luciferin'd,
Lava gushing from the arc
Of streetlamps spilling on the park,
Paper lanterns gone to blazes
In syncopated swinging mazes,
As the moon and stars and buildings spark
All around me in the dark,
My diluted vision blighted
By novas of the badly lighted,
An effulgent, foaming shell
Of evening softly gone to hell,
The iris's prismatic squint
At a traffic signal's flint,
Fractals welding jets of rage,
Chaos frothed into a cage,
Touch from normal sight distracted
By the exploding world refracted,
Medusas flashing off and on:
The planet gone, the planet gone—
Cars themselves approaching streams
Of anemones with fractured beams,
Dragon eyes and crosshatch flares
That sweep the sidewalks with their stares,
Incandescence overdone
Like prominences on the sun,
Aureoles with spider limbs
Gassing from all headlight rims,
Acetylene torches waterfalling
From a neon billboard's scrawling,
Streamers broken into spindling
By the eye's internal kindling,
Blurry pyrotechnic glories
Sprung from Mesolithic stories
Embedded in the pinhole of the eye
By hidden chasms in the sky,
The dazzling semaphoric perks
Of taillights' bloodshot fireworks:
Amaurotic self-made pyres
Of the eye's deluded fires,
Bubbling skies and blind ambition
Bridging waves of tunnel vision,
While, hallucinating in 3D's:
Fizzing Pepto-Bismol seas,
Arcing legs of flindered sties
Sprung from my erupting eyes
As I float above cascading pyres,
Alive with pyrotechnic fires
Coruscating from the spangled moon,
Blinded by a fission noon,
Nothing left on earth but these
Nuclear catastrophes,
Flaming with narcotic's perks,
Blasting sight to fireworks.

Kailua
November 27th, 2004

Rue de Varenne
April 6th, 2005

Lanikai
October 21st, 2008

Explanation

Lest speed readers assume this to be the wages of drug abuse, let me admit up front to the bourgeois truth: that these apocrypha were simply the way the Honolulu night looked to me after emerging from an eye exam with both eyes dilated. The next morning the apocalypse had returned to the normal, slightly blurry world, which offers its own theophanies to the suitably myopic.
The problem with seeing things clearly is that we then take them for granted. We believe items to be fully defined by their names, by the routine of sight. A car is just a car, rather than the absurd collage of Tinguely nuts and bolts that moves in dangerous and unpredictable ways through a landscape, possibly controlled by roads for the moment. As Richard Wilbur has pointed out, a bear is a much more monstrous apparition than its reductive and taming name. Both Nabokov and Biely have noted how streets float loosely in the sky before maps and familiarity settle them into their accustomed roles.
One word which I have to define is “splinder,” a word I’ve always known, and yet which no longer appears in any online dictionary and thus must be lost to a new generation of readers. My college roommate had his self-improving vocabulary on a Rolodex. Every day I’d secretly remove an entry, and he would never use that word again. There are many similar words which have to do with the Industrial Revolution, with shaping molten ore and ingots into the stuff on which modern commerce and no doubt contemporary identity is based. “Flinders” are shards, long iron-filing-like strips of metal separated off of an ingot during smelting. It’s a verb as well. “Splinders” are the molten shower of filings that arc welders split off ingots in a spray of thin, white-hot sparklers, much hotter and more dangerous than the harmless sparks which emanate from a sparkler. A Catherine wheel, or fireworks pinwheel, gives off this shower of sparkles, like an intense meteor shower. To the momentarily dilated, whether from drugs or eye exams, such sparkles seem to pour out of a headlight or off a traffic light, like a fractal cascade of phosphorescent streaks or filaments out of a water faucet. This is exactly what splinding describes. Splinters are broken off the same family tree. For some reason these words are considered to be Scottish, as if the Scots vocabulary retains its Stone Age and Iron Age roots long after normal Norman words have been reduced to emoticons.
It is probably necessary for the mind to accept the frightening miracles of the eye in order to make it safely to the dentist, but one day our eyes open a bit wider and we miss our appointments and wander distractedly out to sea, like Rimbaud, never to return. At least in theory.