Gun Appreciation Day, Take Two

January 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

Women Against Gun Violence

Women Against Gun Violence

At the end of this post, instead of a poem, is a list of people injured and killed on Gun Appreciation Day. It will make you appreciate the times you use your hands to caress a shoulder, change a diaper, cook a meal, pat a dog, open a door. If you want the heft of a weapon in your hand, try forgiveness. It’s much harder to acquire, and very hard to hold onto, but when you wield it, the results are quite spectacular.

I’ve put in my application, but I only get occasional visits. But even instants of that experience make me deeply appreciative that my violent tendencies stay in my swampy psyche, where they belong.

Oh, how I used to treasure my imagination! Now it’s a survival tool—my outlandish fantasies distract me from the more boring repetitive emotions, bleed off pain—but I don’t like being me, and if I could get out of it in an acceptable way, I would.

Maybe you can’t imagine you could shoot your own child, or that your child could shoot his brother, her friend, herself. Maybe you don’t know your potential for rage, for what happens the day your beloved says, “I’m in love with someone else—but I still need you.” I bent my favorite carbon steel knife stabbing a book instead of my heart. Every time I use that knife, I remember. No amount of guns falling from the sky would make me kill someone, but myself? Who knows? Stabbing oneself in the heart is very difficult. Pulling a trigger, not so much.

It’s late to be learning the things I’m learning, all of which I’d read about repeatedly by the time I was 25. I devoured all the great spiritual texts and understood them intellectually, felt their emotional pull. I remember quite distinctly thinking something akin to St. Augustine’s, “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” I thought the age I am now was the proper age for “goodness,” assuming that by now I would have had success, passion, exciting experiences, and so on. And I have, though not as I imagined them.

It used to be, for crimes of passion, you got a pass (if you were male). That once made me furiously indignant, but now I kind of get it (and probably would get it more if I were male). Jealous rage and brokenheartedness are unbearable feelings, and just because most people feel them at one time or another and bear them doesn’t change that. They are unbearable; we get through. They return in dreams and are still unbearable. It’s almost enough to make you believe in the Old Testament God. Who else but that asshole Yahweh would create such a set-up?

I keep stopping the writing—the larger piece of which my gun dialogues are a part—thinking: I need more time to heal. But I want to get it done. I would like nothing better than to abolish the past, erase it and fill those years with pictures of waves at dusk, pine trees in sunlight, the scampering of green monkeys across a road…but the past is real; we saw the monkeys; I have to meet and match it with something big and inclusive of joy and sorrow and stupidity and terror; 11 years of believing that if I lost or left this person, the pain would kill me—

And only slightly over the line of believing that it won’t kill me, though never certain it won’t in some roundabout way—I’m strengthened, maybe; weakened, no question.

But to get back to the positive—there is still and always good news—I haven’t shot anyone, nor will I. My swampy psyche polices its dangerous characters, manhandles them into stories that will eventually dazzle.

And when Charles plays his guitar on the street, people stop and thank him.

(I’m sure you’d rather read a poem than what I’ve copied below. Maybe you should go buy a poetry book.)

Gun Appreciation Day, as it played out

• A 14-year-old suburban Atlanta boy shot and killed his 15-year-old brother while playing with their mother’s handgun.
• A 26 year old was shot and killed while driving in San Francisco.
• A man was found dead from a gunshot wound in his home in Kansas City, Kansas.
• A woman in an El Paso County, Texas shooting range was hit in the knee by a bullet that ricocheted off a trash can.
• Two women were shot to death in a Dallas-area home.
• Two women were injured after someone opened fire at a crowded soccer field in Las Vegas.
• A 15-year-old girl was shot while sleeping in her bed when her Anchorage home was shot at.
• A 7-year-old boy in Tallahassee shot a 5 year old with a gun he found in a 22-year-old relative’s room.
• A Huntsville woman shot her boyfriend after the two had an argument.
• A 23-year-old man died after being accidentally shot in a Greshman, Oregon home.
• A Cleveland father has been charged in connection with the death of his 6-year-old daughter from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
• One man was shot in Elyria, Ohio, just west of Cleveland, early Saturday morning.
• A man was found shot dead in a parking lot in Greenville County, South Carolina.
• Two people were shot and killed outside an inn in Hampton, Virginia.
• At least 10 people were shot in Chicago, at least two were fatal.
• A Colorado Springs man was driven to the hospital with a gunshot wound.
• A Jackson, Mississippi police officer was shot while responding to a disturbance call.
• One man was shot at a Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Jackson.
• Two men and one woman were shot at a home in Oakland.
• An 11-year-old boy was shot in an Oklahoma City apartment complex.
• Police in Richmond, Virginia are looking for three men who shot another man in his thirties.
• Police believe gang violence is to blame for the shooting death of one man in Santa Ana, California.
• An early morning shooting in Tuscaloosa injured two teenagers.

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

Bullet Fever

May 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

Tamas Dezso for The New York Times, Mangalista pigs

Do you think it would help if President Obama announced we have a pandemic in this country, killing thousands, including an inordinate number of children, that everyone is at risk, especially in crowded public places?

He could call it Bullet Fever.

The next time someone glares at you or your kid for sneezing without a hankie remind then it’s your 2nd amendment right. Disease has traditionally been a weapon of war, from besieged townsfolk catapulting corpses over the walls at the enemy to the Japanese carrying out (very successful) plague experiments in China during WWII to all the nefarious games going on today.

I think a sick kid falls under the definition of a well-armed militia as much as a psychotic college student with an assault rifle.

In fact, there’s no evidence at all that this flu wasn’t created in a U.S. lab to be used against…well, whomever, let’s decide that later… and escaped on the person of a Mexican janitor who was then righteously fired to cut costs, gave up on the American Dream, and went home.

But the important thing is we’re all entitled to our deadly diseases, and though you shouldn’t infect someone on purpose unless they sneeze first or are part of an invading enemy force, accidents happen.

A well-prepared individual purchases the flu in a sealed pouch with a spray nozzle, from a reputable dealer, and carries it along with his level 4 contamination mask whenever he ventures into dangerous territory: work, school, trains and buses, the mall and all fast food outlets.

It’s common courtesy to leave it at home when dining with the in-laws, important clients and the President.

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