poetry The Business of Guns
THE BUSINESS OF GUNS
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.