Warning: Emits showers of sparks.
Light fuse and get away. Use only under close adult supervision.
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Fireworks were first invented in China during the Tang Dynasty, and then flourished during the Song Dynasty. The production of fireworks was centralized in Liuyang, Hunan. Today, the main manufacturers of fireworks are still primarily Hunan-based, scattered in Liuyang, Lilin and Youxian. Hunan Provincial Native Produce and Animal By-products Import and Export Corporation is one of the largest modern manufacturers, and brands fireworks and firecrackers with the trade mark "HF".
The names of their fireworks are lush hybrids of traditional Chinese fable imagery and the earnest phraseology of the novice English translator. The result is a (perhaps unintended) syncreticism of pyrotechnics and poetry.
Here is what I have in my waxed cardboard box of things to set on fire:
Dragons Spitting Pearls, Golden Deer, Color Stars Around the Moon, Cloud Dragon, Flower Sea, Twice Plum, Fairy Cherry, Glittering Tower, Garden With Innumerable Flowers, Rich Fruits, Purple Silk, Small Red Flower, Six Fairies, Laugh and Laugh, Merry Angels, Joyful by Chance, Celestial Beauty.
Dragons Spitting Pearls
We're lying on the beach, past midnight, looking at the stars. We don't have a blanket, and we don't hold hands. It's that kind of night. He tells an old story, about how stars came from dragons spitting pearls into the sky.
They're still moving, he says, but so are we. So they look like they're holding still. But really, really, he says, we're all rushing through the cosmos, hurtling toward the end of time. And he laughs bitterly.
I pick up a seashell, and hold it to my ear. Now the rushing sound of it reminds me of being in the car late at night as a child, highway hushing beneath the wheels, soothing speed, dad is driving and mom has her hand on the back of his neck, and the hushrush hum is making me sleepy. I want to fall asleep.
I know if I do, one of them will carry me inside and put me to bed. I want this, although I am five, and would never admit that I still like being carried. The memory fills me with a sense of peace, love, safety, surety. I would say to him:
We're safe and warm, we're not driving, we're sleeping in the back seat, or looking out the window and daydreaming, and we'll get there when we get there.
But he's so lonely already, and I know he won't come inside the seashell. So I just scoot over and sit close, so that he can at least feel the warmth. Eventually, he takes my hand.
He'd been hunting it ever since his father died. His father had told him the legend when he was just a boy: whoever killed the golden deer that roamed in the Wickerwithe Woods could turn the skin into a cloak that would grant him eternal life.
Now his father, whom he loved even more than he loved his wife, was dead. Struck down by an untrue arrow in the new moon's hunt.
The body had been wrapped and shriven in fine linen, and was still in the chapel. The fortnight was nearly up, but all was well.
For now he approached his father's bier, holding a freshly tanned deerskin of tawny gold out in his shaking, blood-flaked hands. He draped it over his father's body, and knelt down to pray that this once, just this once, a story told to a child was true.
Color Stars Around the Moon
He loves the smell of her hair. He thinks, the perfume of innocence is the precise smell of a child's hair. His love for his daughter chokes him a little, so he takes a long swallow of beer and looks over the top of her head at the picture she's drawing him. It's a picture of night, she says. So he won't forget what it looks like while he's in Alaska, fishing.
She's been trying to color white stars into the midnight blue sky of her drawing, with no luck. He observes her mounting frustration. Finally, with tears in her eyes, she cries to him that the stars won't come out right, the white isn't bright enough.
"Then make them colored," he says. "It's your sky, you can make it anything you want." The look she gives him, and the smile that comes after, makes him fear a little less that he's not a good father. This much, at least, he has given her.
Danny was hiding from the older boys again. They'd become braver ever since Miss Ellett got sick and went away. The substitute teacher never did anything to stop them. The sub was a scrawny man with long hair, eyes like fried eggs, and long toes that stuck out over the tips of his hippy sandals. No-one ever bothered remembering his name, but always remembered that he'd jump a mile into the air if you dropped your heaviest book on the ground while his back was turned.
That was Rusty's favorite game now, next to beating up on smaller kids like Danny. It had taken three, four days for the last indian burn to go away. It had bruised hard, too. Like a sunset. So now he was back here, playing the cloud game. A lady dancing. A butterfly. Still, he was angry. If only there was some way to teach them a lesson, he thought. He sighed ferociously, squinting at the sky. He'd promised his grandfather that he wouldn't, but just this once...
And the clouds began to move.
Her irises violet, lips flushed hyacinth all tropical and hot and red and damp against his skin, she, lily white everywhere she isn't rosy, is all he can see, smell, taste, hear, know. These flashes of her are petal-punctuated by eyeblinks, between gasps of air, the motion of his hands seeking her out. She is the scent of ginger lily and gardenia. He's drowning in a sea of petals.
It's Carlo's first time north, and his first day on the trees. He should watch his cousins for what to do, but instead he watches a pretty girl on the tree next to his. Her tanned arms swing gracefully from branch to bucket. She smiles at him. He smiles back. She notices how he pushes his hair away from his eyes with one hand while reaching for a plum with the other. He notices a tiny scar on her cheekbone, like a smile. They pick plums for hours, backs aching, sun burning their necks, speaking poetry to each other with their eyes.
They fall in love between midmorning and noon.
At noon, a bell rings. Everyone scrambles down their ladders for a long drink of fresh, cold well-water and their choice of plums from a basket of bruised fruit. She chooses one, biting into it just as he approaches her. Now that they're earthbound, not up in the trees, her smile is shyer.
The juice on her lips makes them sparkle. She smiles hesitantly, offers her plum to him. He takes a bite from it, right out of her hand. The unexpected pleasure and sweetness of it lifts his spirits, and he laughs. She, also laughing, turns her face up to his. He leans in, quickly, impulsively, and tastes the summer sweetness again, from her smiling lips.
A Fairy Cherry
Behind the Glittering Tower,
In the Garden With Innumerable Flowers and Rich Fruits
And all yearning to be chosen, and taken in his hand
The prince in Purple Silk plucks only a Small Red Flower
The Six Fairies look at each other.
The eldest smiles, and then the younger fairies
Laugh and Laugh like Merry Angels.
You have chosen well, says the youngest.
Else you shall be Joyful by Chance.
You have found her.
He raises the flower to his lips,
and his true love materializes in his arms
in a Celestial Beauty
of red and silver sparks.