This man and I softly discussed hunting
at a dinner party. I’d just met him,
we’d liked each other immediately,
but we spoke carefully, as nowadays
men must do who aren’t looking to argue.
I asked if he’d advise me on a matter
that’d been nagging me: I owned a shotgun
but had lost track of where the ammunition
was in the house, and I’d become concerned
about defending myself and my wife
in case of a break-in. Should I buy shells
for the gun was my question. My new friend
had tales to tell of tragic accidental
shootings and near shootings. Finally, though,
he said yes, buy the shells. When I asked if
I should load the shotgun–it’s a ladies’
410 gauge side-by-side my grandfather bought
for my grandmother that she had never fired–
Clayton–that’s his name–said, Definitely not,
put the box of shells high up in the closet
where you keep the gun. This was wise advice.
Clayton and I both knew if intruders
broke in, it’d be unlikely I could fetch
the box down, pluck out the shells, and load them
in time to confront the perps with my antique
shotgun, and even if I could have, would that
have been what I wanted? We both knew
I just needed a way to pretend I was safe.
Datillio’s Gun Shop & Gas Station
holds three young men, a leathery old codger
and a boy about twelve, surrounded
by displays of archery equipment,
towering shelves of ammunition, pistols
beneath glass cases, rifles and shotguns
on racks above and behind the counter
–and it’s still a working filling station!
All five males scrutinize me steadily
when I say what I want. They listen to me
describing the shotgun to the one
wearing camouflage who asks me what size
shells I have in mind. The six of us determine
two-inch shells are what I should buy. Small, heavy
box in my hand, weirdly validated,
I walk out into November’s fading light.
Twilight when I get home, house to myself,
I unsheathe Grandmama Huddle’s shotgun
from its canvas case to carry it downstairs
and reckon with it in the family room.
I’d forgotten how a gun in my hand
unmoors me, turns me into somebody
capable of I don’t know what. Here
with a TV, a rocking chair, toys, books,
a poinsettia, I fool with my weapon.
I open it, squint down the empty barrels,
load and unload the shells, switch the safety
on and off. In this room I don’t raise the gun
to my shoulder, nestle it against my cheek
place my finger on the trigger. Wrong to do that.
My childhood home had rifles from three wars
mounted on its walls; a snub-nose thirty-eight
stashed in a bureau drawer underneath
my father’s socks; air rifles and pellet guns
in closets and back rooms. I adored the cap-guns
and holsters Santa Claus brought me for Christmas.
I once pointed an empty BB gun
at my brother’s ear and pulled the trigger.
I’ve hunted deer, shot birds and rabbits.
Most days in the army I carried a rifle
or a pistol.
The twenty first-graders shot
in Newtown made me want never to see
another gun. Those dead kids, shot again
and again, made me want to kill somebody.
America, I’d shed you like a rattlesnake
scraping off its old skin except I’d still
be a rattlesnake.
My wife and I said
we’d move to Canada if George Bush was
elected a second time, and he was,
and we didn’t.
We had our excuses,
still have them, but we could leave today if
we really wanted to, if we weren’t
who we are,
believers like our parents
citizens blind to what we do now–
kill our children, shame and imprison our poor,
dishonor our old folks, and make our crooks rich.
I have a gun in my house. Don’t fuck with me.