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poetry The Business of Guns

Massachusetts poet Anne Champion raises a protest against the sale of guns and weapons of mass destruction.

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By Anne Champion


I’m teaching international students on the day

          of another mass shooting: I can’t count

how many times I’ve had these conversations


with them, how many times they’ve looked

          at me with the kind of wide eyed searching

that only the young have, whose hopes


for the world haven’t yet turned cold

          and metallic tasting in their mouths, asking

What is with your country and the business of guns?


And I want to tell them that everything

          is a lie: that the map outlining the United States

is really a picture of an oil spill, oozing toxins


out of barrels of money, coating

          every form of life that inhabits it, swiftly

spreading itself to pollute the entire world,


that the Constitution is not a document

          but a shield that the NRA ducks safely

under during every mass shooting,


that the promise of the pursuit of happiness

          translates to the pursuit of money

and it really only applies to corporations


and the wealthy and doesn’t have anything

          to do with anyone’s desire to feel safe,

that every 4th of July, claps erupt in the sky


and I always have a moment when that musty moth

          of fear flutters through my gut

because I don’t know if those are fireworks or a gunman


outside my window, that maybe there’s no difference

          between the celebration of this country

and the horror of a bully or a crazed madman.


I want to teach them that this country,

          its business of death and destruction,

is the same as oxygen, and people are breathing


it here and all over the world. I wish I could encourage

          them to fight, to believe in change, but I can’t lie

to them: I’ve imagined so many bullets


razing groups of children to the ground

          and sometimes I wake to night terrors

in which those children have my students’ faces.


Instead I say, That’s a good question, because my heart

          is a deflated, limp balloon now, and I can’t lift us

from this wreckage.  Another girl, whose rage


is still new, asks, If anyone can own a semi-automatic weapon,

          then why aren’t all weapons of mass destruction legal?

The emotion overtakes her face like gray clouds descending


on a spring sun, and I can almost see my former self,

          transforming into what I am today, Why isn’t a nuclear

bomb or arsenic legal for anyone to buy? She raises her hand


                                                            in salute, I promise I’ll only use them for self defense.



Anne Champion is the author of The Good Girl is Always a Ghost (Black Lawrence Press, 2018), She Saints & Holy Profanities (Quarterly West, 2019), Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), Book of Levitations (Trembling Pillow Press, 2019), and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, 2017).

Her poems have appeared in Verse Daily, Prairie Schooner, Salamander, Crab Orchard Review, Epiphany Magazine, The Pinch, The Greensboro Review, New South, and elsewhere.  She was a 2009 Academy of American Poet’s Prize recipient, a Barbara Deming Memorial grant recipient, a 2015 Best of the Net winner, and a Pushcart Prize nominee. She holds degrees in Behavioral Psychology and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University and an MFA in Poetry from Emerson College.  She currently teaches writing and literature in Boston, MA.