Independence Day

My Uncle Saul once gave me a book
          on the signers of the Declaration.
          Like Franklin he had a fatherly look
          though no children,
          a knack for silly jokes,
          and he fancied science,
          taking a whirl at my experiments
          with a junior chemistry set
          he bought to draw me out
          from my innate ambivalence.
My actual father thought
          him more turncoat, Loyalist
          to a 9 to 5 government post,
          ambitionless, wasting hours
          on walks or hunched over a history text
          sipping a Madeira—but a child
          could fly with him, above towers,
          schoolyards, battlefields, enthralled
          by his stories: one about a chase
          through the Vitebsk woods,
          a boy runs from soldiers, hides
          in a gully as boots stomp past…
My filial allegiance embraced him
          and though now (like my true dad)
          I salute flags of success,
          I sense within me his inclination
          to stroll through a park, its new-mown fields,
          to sit by a lamp with an old tome,
          contentments defying excess
          and honored without cannonades—
          military displays leave me cold
          recalling his relief in evading
          that Soviet patrol, his wariness
          of rank and standing—how it frees
          when someone out of step parades
          what we want to believe.

Michael Sandler’s poems have appeared in more than 30 journals, including California Quarterly, Crack the Spine, Valparaiso Poetry Review and Zone 3. For his day job, he works as an arbitrator.