Issue 24

Guy with a Gun


There’s the phrase once again—The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gunthis time pasted on a Subaru’s fender, its rote answer tagging along in a faded Wild West font. Today, though, idling in traffic, instead of knee-jerk counterarguments and a few remembered memes, I’m thinking of a guy I met in Newtown, Connecticut, who had a son in the first grade at Sandy Hook Elementary when the shooting took place. His kid is alivethat should be said from the outsetbut since the guy was teaching science at the middle school across town when the frantic texts and rumors and lockdown began, for a few hours he wasn’t sure if his son had been shot. His son is alive because the shooter chose to step into a different classroom, but at first no one knew what had happened, including the guy’s wife as she drove up to the school to build gingerbread houses and instead found an empty car blocking the road with the driver’s door open. By then she could smell gunpowder searing the air. By then there were sirens in the distance and soon a police officer held the gathered parents back as a group of children came running, one of whom was covered in blood and said, as she reached for her mom there in the crowd, I’m alright, but the other kids are dead. All of which is one reason why, when the emails and online postings began claiming that there hadn’t been a shooting, that all of these parents were lying, that the grief of Sandy Hook was being performed, the guy’s wife felt compelled to respond, to say what happened had happened. I was there, she wrote back, I was there. But the voices continued, a chorus that wouldn’t stop calling the guy’s wife liar, conspirator, no matter what facts she gave. When the threats beganI’m bad for people’s health, someone wrote on her Instagram. Wait until I find your childrenthe guy and his wife went to the police who said there was nothing they could do. Passwords were changed, users were blocked: the taunts continued. After she wrote The stalking needs to stop, someone responded by posting a picture of their son they had found online and wrote This is stalking, bitch. Which is when the guy renewed his permit to carry a gun and began slipping his .45 into its holster whenever he left the house. Perhaps you think you know where this is going. Perhaps this seems as predictable as any sloganeering phrase. Except this story refuses to be reduced to a single phrase. The guy kept his gun close, not knowing what else to do. When he felt its heftrunning errands or driving his carmaybe it seemed as if order could be restored, a sense that he might be able to stop the worst thing from becoming still worse. One morning, the guy drove to the middle school where he’d been teaching for years and, running late for a meeting, he stepped into the building still carrying the gun in a holster under his coat. Maybe he wasn’t thinking. Maybe it was carelessness, arrogance, indifference to the rules. The guy knows that calling this a mistake doesn’t cut it. Closer would be some word that doesn’t exist for a fuck-up spilling out of desperation or perhaps a desire to shield while also circumventing grief and trying to find some kind of foothold in the wake of twenty children being shot in his hometown. But the guy isn’t interested in the words we might choose. Instead, he’s thinking about the choices he should have made instead of strolling to the photocopier to prepare for class and watching the machine’s light flare a few times across his hands as he pressed and held a book’s spine before he was approached by the principal and asked to lift up his jacket. He knew then he’d be leaving in handcuffs. He didn’t yet know that he’d lose his teaching license or that the prosecutor’s first offer would be a year in prison with a four-year suspended sentence. That without written permission he could never again pick up his son after school, or attend school events, or vote at a public school. That any future employer would see his mugshot online. That some of his friends in town would never speak to him again, and instead he’d find himself standing in a shaded corner of his yard, unemployed, listening to the traffic push past, telling his story to some guy who, for whatever it’s worth, didn’t know what words to say. 

Guy with a Gun

The Lesson



Or else swoon to death, the young poet wrote,
    though these in the seminar’s steadfast room
appear to want little or none of it,
    however coddlingly the professor prods.
They are the poet’s age at death, or almost,
    but do not find “relatable” these words
composed by one who knew his passion hopeless—
    especially the sleepless Eremite,
belonging to another world and time,
    and even his fair love’s ripening breast
conjures only suspect looks, withering stares,
    or now and then a tolerating nod.
Of course, they must assume their own bright stars
          will rise aloft some digital empyrean

The Lesson




Sundays I’d walk down the hill toward the green four o’clock
   dark beginning like a rumor—
always she was leaning over the counter, head tipped toward
   a tiny phone,
her husband turning the pages of a 
Daily Mail like a man
    whose suspicions of human nature were 
    being fed fresh evidence.
Stale fryer fat, ale, black and tans in the fridge.
They knew I’d be there before the match started.
You alright yeah 
Every Sunday a matinee I attended for three years
as volcanoes exploded
and she died,
white slipped into my beard
wars began and others ended.
Each Sunday the words gathering new weight 
as words do when you repeat them.
You alright 
I didn’t know but by halftime if I wasn’t too pissed
I’d walk home in the furred darkness before the beer wore off
and a sudden gust of wind could blow cold air on my heart.





“Made of cotton Jeans, red cotton cord
and one cotton tassel. Price, each $5.00″

from Catalogue of Official Robes and Banners, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan

Inside the discourse, our course—the walk
in the tattle, the footwork goose stepped


“Can’t you see I’m a fool”



I was once in a denim skirt and cowboy hat, spilling milk in a grocery store.
How many songs did I learn to sing I was the fool?
I am a fool. I know I have been a fool—
these are the early future concepts out of which I turned into myself.

“Can’t you see I’m a fool”

Nine Twelve Poem



Dedicated to Reina Yolanda Burdie

I was in Egypt nine months before the towers fell.
The people spoke to me in Arabic  Roh Rohi 
but I spoke back in English   so they called me “American”
             /I never called myself American. 
                 America never called me American – not without a hyphen. 

Nine Twelve Poem



At an artists’ collective near the Polish border about an hour from Berlin, I’d been taking a break from translating texts into English, a task I once enjoyed but was beginning to resent, as I was beginning to feel invisible—or was it burnt out?—in any case, I was glad to get away for a few days: it was my first vacation since I-don’t-know-when, and I’d begun to feel my soul was spent. Over lunch on my last day there, a woman from Seoul who went by the nickname Hae—a transliteration of the word “sun” in Korean, she said—asked what the word in German was for “soul.” Actually, the woman sitting next to her asked, but the woman sitting next to Hae came from Spain and was shy about her English, so when she directed the question at me I heard the word as “sol”—we’d spent the week speaking both Spanish and English—and said, in reply, “Sonne.”


Suppose You Were a Bad Ghost


You tried so hard to be good, turning 
the shower on when no one was home,
brushing your teeth so inaudibly 
that even standing in the hall with an ear
pressed to wood, no one could hear you.
The sun could not freckle through you,
but each morning you pressed your palms
against the wallpaper as if you might 
one day slip right through into daylight.
Once, you went so long without laughing 
you forgot how to start altogether.
You watched one scary movie per year
to insist you knew how to be brave,
because you knew you weren’t
transparent enough to pass through
when those hands came spoiling at night.

Suppose You Were a Bad Ghost