In our time we reckoned our dead in firearms—
handguns, rifles, automatic weapons;
in much-parsed constitutional clauses;
in politicians bought by lobbyists
and salesmen. In our time, we objected
most of us, but we couldn’t stop those guns.
They squatted beside the desperate, the guy
who craved suicide; they incited
wild-eyed murder, mass murder.
In our time, we just hoped we wouldn’t
be unlucky, that a sick boy toting
what we called an AR-15-style
Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle,
wouldn’t burst into another first-grade
classroom where our kids studied addition,
subtraction; or into another night club
where we celebrated Saturday night;
we just hoped that a stray bullet wouldn’t
cross Central Park to reach the shady
bench on which we sat talking with a friend,
that no cop would imagine our hand reaching
for a pistol instead of a wallet or a phone.
We had to calibrate for guns. And those
with darker skin had to calibrate
more (no talking back, no attitude,
no running away, no looking tough or strange
or hard, no looking like yourself most days).
We knew the slogans: people, not guns,
kill people, a gun in the hands of a good
guy trumps a gun in the hands of a bad
guy, and on and on. We grew ill
from those excuses for poor, innocent guns.
They were everywhere—inside the jacket
of a man at the next table, in the glove compartment
of the car beside us at the light. Ubiquitous
and lethal, they entered our wild logic
awake or asleep. In those days, we let
our toddlers discover a parent’s gun, safety
off, badly hidden under a pillow
or jammed, for our own protection, inside a bag
under a restaurant table, and when our sweet,
curious children wrapped their little fingers
around the gun’s shape so they could gaze
into its empty maw, while we looked
away or dozed, we let them pull the trigger,
we let them kill themselves. About death,
you know. We knew too much.