Breaking Free Writing Contest Winner

Pat Daneman
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Feb 7, 2019

Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Pat Daneman has won the poetry category of our writing contest on the theme of BREAKING FREE with "Congolese Refugee Family Watches Fireworks for the First Time".

Pat Daneman is from Long Island, New York and currently lives in Lenexa, Kansas. She has published fiction and poetry in many print and online magazines, including The American Journal of Poetry, Escape into Life and the Bellevue Poetry Review. Her poems have been anthologized in Best of the Net and New Poetry from the Midwest. She is the author of a chapbook, Where the World Begins (Finishing Line Press) and co-author of a choral libretto, We, the Unknown. Her second collection, After All, was published in 2018 by FutureCycle Press.


Congolese Refugee Family Watches Fireworks for the First Time

They wait their turn for ice cream, listen
as someone explains that the toppings—strawberries, blueberries,
whipped cream, stand for a flag, our American Red, White & Blue
The parents nod, they are learning the names of colors.
Politely they refuse an offer of folding chairs.
Someone spreads a blanket where they sit in a line,

three boys, mother with baby and almost two-year-old, not yet walking,
father, who looks no older than his sons. Their smiles are constant.
Their brown eyes gleam. Several women have complimented
the mother on her beautiful African clothes, her beautiful children.
She sets her ice cream aside—

she cannot manage a bowl and spoon and two babies,
the youngest born less than a month ago, the American in the family.
The other girl born in the camp where three babies died.
The boys are growing fast now, bringing home
new words every day. From somewhere nearby,

music takes over the dark trumpets and drums.
The tradition has been explained to them—a celebration
of victory. Existence is their victory,
though they don’t have enough words to explain.
So many left behind. So little freedom for so long.
When the fire starts in the sky, it opens into stars, flowers,

waterfalls. The boys clap and exclaim
like American boys. The baby flinches
with each explosion because her mother flinches.
The father closes his eyes in praise of wet grass,
melting ice cream, this place where people
need only one night to celebrate freedom.

Reviewed by Helen H.
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