Bicentennial by Peter Grimes


Sometimes she imagines it’s 1776 when she’s through with it — today it’s Jimmy pissing on the Common to copy his cousin in petite yellow splatter. Is this hysterical precedent? The boys keep laughing as she swats their thighs, and it must be funny, which is just the problem she has with the past. It is grainy, and hard to re-live. The doing of it. Yet its fuzzy light gives rise to statues, to chopping cherry as honest work, to heroes renouncing their families for forest, for valleys and high ground, and homes left to burn in the name of Republic, to aprons falling down at their feet.

At times she thinks forward two hundred years to now, the bicentennial, in reverse oracular style, and she’s seeing what happens on the big screen. This one-time quarterback pardons a commander of small-time crooks, a kid hiding toys. His buddy takes the snap and sneaks behind the surge. The American people buy it, so sometimes in her dreams it’s then again — she can’t control it — her boys in need of homespun breeches, they mound up earth on Prospect Hill, snipe at Tories with frontier rifles, Red Ryders, two end zones to puncture a seven-inch cap. This American mob of wheelwrights and coopers, of blacksmiths and freed men re-creates her in a year when revolt promised all for everyone who did the duty prescribed, and you could see it done, in wash water, in knit scarfs and Bundt cakes delivered to the field where blood-clotted boys needed comfort from mothers, musket balls lodged in their perfect pink lungs.

The past gives her presence when the present is lost. Neither healthy unrest nor nights fast asleep, the nine o’clock news her connection with the now, with history unfolding, she’s propped on a pillow she sewed in high school, her husband’s soft back a slope of displeasure, the ceiling blades spinning in wind through the window they’d shut in winter.




Peter Grimes is an assistant professor of English at Dickinson State University. He teaches creative writing, editing, composition, and the occasional literature class. His fiction has appeared in journals such as Narrative, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Mississippi Review, and Sycamore Review.


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Art derived from image by Sidney E. King