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Richard Michelson: Angels with Guns Guarding the Gates of Heaven

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
— National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre


The angel staying the dagger-raised-arm of Abraham was
one of the good guys. But studying, again, Isaac’s Binding,
painted after Rembrandt, age twenty-nine, suffered his first-
born son’s death, I find no weapon hidden beneath the wings
of God’s blue cloaked go-between. And what to make of Jacob
wrestling–hand to hand combat–with his better nature? Faith
was all they had in common. Even Rubens’ Lucifer-led rebels,
in their fallen orgy of luscious flesh had only their foolish
Flemish selves to censure. So when the president’s election
committee dubbed as “angels” those who had lost loved ones
to violence by illegal South American refugees, I wondered
which side of the border wall between heaven and hell was left
to climb. I was in La Paz, Bolivia when I came upon the Master
of Calamarca’s Archangel Asiel with Rifle which I learned
from the department of tourism, spawned a convention of gun-
toting deities throughout the Andes: Christ’s army protecting
the faithful. The missionary-enforced Catholicism banned
the practice of pre-Hispanic religions and the indigenous Inka
thought Spanish firepower supernatural. My grandmother didn’t
live to see her youngest son, my father, murdered in a Brooklyn
gutter by a fifth generation, drug-addicted, unemployed house-
painter whose ancestors were dragged here like devils in chains.
If there were armed guards inside the temple, the president said,
after his white nationalist supporter slaughtered eleven in Pittsburgh,
they would have been able to stop him. Today, I enter the unlocked
door of my Amherst synagogue, once the church where Emily
Dickinson also attempted to pray. The light pours through the
sanctuary’s stained-glass windows, and squinting, I see shadows
positing a loaded gun in the poet’s hand. We are all father Abraham
and also, Isaac the son, she explains. And I confess how once
I, too, believed that a guardian angel walked before each of us,
unarmed, and chanting: Make Way for The Image of The Lord.

Copyright 2033 Richard Michelson. From Sleeping As Fast As I Can.

Richard Michelson’s poetry collections include More Money Than God. He has received a National Jewish Book Award and two Sydney Taylor Gold Medals from the Association of Jewish Libraries.

The Sacrifice of Isaac (Rembrandt, 1635). Oil on canvas. Hermitage, St. Petersburg

5 comments on “Richard Michelson: Angels with Guns Guarding the Gates of Heaven

  1. outsiderart
    April 18, 2023

    And Emily’s #764….


  2. Arlene Weiner
    April 18, 2023

    Recently in New Mexico police went to the wrong address, knocked on the door. The homeowner, presumably a good guy, had a gun in hand when he opened up. The police opened up and shot him dead. His wife shot too but too late to save him. On that threshold who was the angel? https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/16/us/new-mexico-police-shooting-video.html


    • Vox Populi
      April 18, 2023

      In Kansas City, a confused 84 year old shot a 16 year old who was knocking on the wrong door. The boy is brain damaged. The old man is facing felony charges. There are no heroes here.



      • abby
        April 18, 2023

        true, dark tales all. one weeps for this (likely) god-forsaken country


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