Gathering the Bones

December 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

daniel in bed.2
A child still with us

We were talking about guns, as many people have been lately, and Charles told me that when he was 15, he was first out of 400 in his summer camp rifle shooting competition. And as a matter of course joined the NRA. (Undoubtedly his membership expired when they started requiring membership fees.)

I thought that was cool. I would like to be first out of 400 in something requiring that kind of hand-eye coordination. And I guess if I were in a situation requiring a gun, and happened to have one handy, it would be nice to be able to shoot it effectively. But those days are long gone, not only for us (age), but for America.

Shooting a rifle well enough to win a prize is nothing like buying a machine gun you have no acceptable use for unless the zombie apocalypse comes (and everyone knows bullets barely slow down a zombie). Even if we devolve into barbarism in the lifetime of today’s adults, a machine gun is a tricky proposition: those people approaching your stronghold may be killer junkies but may also be not-so-bad guys you could negotiate with. A shotgun would be fine.

“But what if they have machine guns?” says the eager purchaser, the kind who has cleaned out gun shops this week. I don’t know…maybe…go fuck yourself? I’m not sure I want to hang out with those guys or have them survive, though I understand they see it differently. The point is, most of them don’t expect to need their guns, they just find them, as one said, “exciting.” Yeah, I found drunk driving kind of exciting when I was 17. I found one-night-stands with strangers exciting in my 20’s and early 40’s, and crazy love exciting well beyond that.

God save me from more excitement. When you’re in the midst of it—anything infatuating and dangerous—you don’t honestly reckon the cost. ‘Excitement’ has a way of skewing perception. We see 20 kids dead, they see a way to make Saturdays a thrilling break from the workweek, family, day-to-day blah of life. I get it. Your blood races, your nerves hum, your senses expand, power (in disguise as mastery) is an enormous rush. You feel manly. Womanly. Special. But then your kid dies or kills someone. Or you’re lucky and just shoot off a few toes.

My brother, as a teenager, almost shot someone with a gun he was certain was unloaded. At the last minute, he swung it away from his friend. He says he heard our father (who died when he was eight) telling him, “Never point a gun at someone unless you mean to kill him.” And the gun, which actually was loaded, blew out a window.

My father meant to kill himself and he succeeded. Death was one of his erogenous zones.

I’ve experienced what it’s like to have a child and a parent in the family die. I can imagine what it would have been like if my brother had killed his friend Jonathan. I don’t think he’d be recovered yet.

So if, by any chance, I’m not preaching to the converted, please pay attention: if a gun is exciting to you, how much more exciting might it be to your kid or the neighbor’s kid or the young guy who burgles your house? Not to mention that your wife might fantasize about mistaking you for an intruder a lot more often than you think.

After our gun chat, Charles and I moved on to Christmas presents. He said, “All I want is that you not call me an asshole under your breath on Christmas day.” I mean, c’mon! He’d promised and promised he’d do something, we had a guest coming! It was only that once…

But since he said that, I’ve called him an asshole under my breath whenever I remember to. And he remarks to the cats, “That witch, your mother…that monstrous lump in the bed…” But nobody’s getting a gun in his (her) stocking. Really.

Gathering the Bones Together

for Peter Orr 

When all the rooms of the house 
fill with smoke, it’s not enough 
to say an angel is sleeping on the chimney.

1. a night in the barn

The deer carcass hangs from a rafter.
Wrapped in blankets, a boy keeps watch
from a pile of loose hay. Then he sleeps

and dreams about a death that is coming:
Inside him, there are small bones
scattered in a field among burdocks and dead grass.
He will spend his life walking there,
gathering the bones together.

Pigeons rustle in the eaves.
At his feet, the German shepherd
snaps its jaws in its sleep.

A father and his four sons
run down a slope toward
a deer they just killed.
The father and two sons carry
rifles. They laugh, jostle,
and chatter together.
A gun goes off
and the youngest brother
falls to the ground.
A boy with a rifle
stands beside him,

I crouch in the corner of my room,
staring into the glass well
of my hands; far down
I see him drowning in air.

Outside, leaves shaped like mouths
make a black pool
under a tree. Snails glide
there, little death-swans.

4. smoke
Something has covered the chimney
and the whole house fills with smoke.
I go outside and look up at the roof,
but I can’t see anything.
I go back inside. Everyone weeps,
walking from room to room.
Their eyes ache. This smoke
turns people into shadows.
Even after it is gone
and the tears are gone,
we will smell it in pillows
when we lie down to sleep.

He lives in a house of black glass.
Sometimes I visit him, and we talk.
My father says he is dead,
but what does that mean?
Last night I found a child
sleeping on a nest of bones.
He had a red, leaf-shaped
scar on his cheek.
I lifted him up
and carried him with me,
though I didn’t know where I was going.

6. the journey
Each night, I knelt on a marble slab
and scrubbed at the blood.
I scrubbed for years and still it was there.
But tonight the bones in my feet
begin to burn. I stand up
and start walking, and the slab
appears under my feet with each step,
a white road only as long as your body.

7. the distance
The winter I was eight, a horse
slipped on the ice, breaking its leg.
Father took a rifle, a can of gasoline.
I stood by the road at dusk and watched
the carcass burning in the far pasture.

I was twelve when I killed him;
I felt my own bones wrench from my body.
Now I am twenty-seven and walk
beside this river, looking for them.
They have become a bridge
that arches toward the other shore.

–Gregory Orr


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§ One Response to Gathering the Bones

  • beverlydiehl says:

    Thoughtful, and true.

    People are terrified of having their big bad guns taken away. Reality: if you are so addicted to the thrill of shooting your load with the biggest, baddest gun you can get, that you’re willing to accept XX many children dying as a result of lax gun regulations, then you are the LAST person who should own one.

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