Gunslinger 101

Gunslinger 101 (Revised)

Because of several recent 
school shootings with a
horrid loss of young life,
 
some bloodthirsty citizens 
have called for classroom
 
teachers
 
to arm themselves and be trained
with high powered handguns.
 
The idea is that if an intruder,
bent on destruction, bursts into,
 
the classroom,
 
amid an otherwise dull 
lesson on proper nouns,
the teacher stands ready,
 
like Billy The Kid,

(who’d murdered many,
but caught a fatal bullet
himself at the still tender
 age of twenty-one.)
 
to protect his students and 
maybe even himself.
 
Good luck with all that.
 
I can see it now—
me cowering behind my desk,
 
the insane shooter shielding
himself behind a wriggling

armful of shrieking Jennifer,
while wildly reducing the 
 
blackboard
to shredded chips of powdered
rubble with one of those 
 
AK47 gizmos.
 
Meanwhile I’m peeking over my
laptop, hoping to get a clear
 
shot just over Jennifer’s
shoulder, and wishing I had
 
buried a few IEDs in the floor
near the doorway so he could
 
experience firsthand the finality 
 
of smithereens.

Despite my religious upbringing,
I cursed out loud the fact I had 
 
neglected to string up a few 
strands of barbed wire to hold him
 
at bay while I rummaged in my desk
for a spare grenade to lob, but I
 
didn’t dare take my eyes off him
for fear he might touch Jennifer
 
improperly.
 
My best option seemed to be just
wait until the shooter ran out of 
 
ammo,

and the local Swat Team could swoop
in and, mistaking me for the shooter,
riddle me with bullets, and ask
 
questions later.
 
It’s probably best not to be arming 
the likes of me in a hostile situation.
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Not Hitler’s War

Not Hitler's War

I might have been four or five
when Grand Pa Pa first came to visit.
 
It happened at a time stored mostly 
in my mind’s wobbly shadows.
 
I visit there often now to wander about.
 
He spoke no English; instead he
managed a language called Deutsch.
 
I vaguely remember sounds almost 
as foreign to me as my own.
 
He spoke from deep in his throat.
 
Mother said he came from a nice,
but faraway place called Germany. 
 
Unlike everyone else I knew,
He only had an arm and a half.
 
People really need both arms.
 
He had somehow lost his other half
arm in an earlier, “not Hitler’s war,”
 
as Mother put it. I guess we’d just 
won Hitler’s war, not Pa Pa’s war.
 
Pa Pa’s loss was obvious because his
shirt sleeve was pinned up at the elbow. 

A few weeks earlier, at a family
 
picnic, I had lost a shoe while 
playfully kicking stones into a river.
 
The shoe floated downstream 
and eventually sank into icy water 
 
while Mother chased after it.
 
In the end, I got a spanking for
losing the shoe and being a foolish boy.
 
I wondered a little if Grand-Pa Pa’s 
Mother had spanked him on the
 
day he came home from fighting in, 
 
not Hitler’s war, for losing half his arm.
Arms are worth more than shoes of course.
 
Grand Pa-Pa had mastered something 
with one hand I could not yet do with two— 
 
tie his shoelaces.
 
And when Mother served him his morning 
coffee in a cup and saucer, he quickly 
 
poured it into the saucer to cool.
I was just a boy then, with still much to learn
 
about geography, wars, men, losing stuff,

and drinking coffee. But I was delighted by 
Pa-Pa’s foreign sounds, his stump of an arm, 

his deft magic with shoelaces, and odd way 
of drinking coffee. Pa Pa didn’t stay long, 

leaving Mom and me, while we were both 

still young in life. I suppose he went off to 
learn more about America and why we 

had sent men to fight against him 
and his fellow countrymen,
 
in not Hitler’s war.
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A Morgue Experience

A Morgue Experience

There is a most primitive wailing sound— 
a stricken keening of utter despair—
 
a mother’s awful symphony 
 
of savage tongue,
 
throbbing throat, 
 
and ruined heart.
 
Identity must be determined. 
 
A son? Handsome youth cut down? 
 
A daughter? Blooming beauty snuffed? 

Father, steeped in rage, refuses to go, 
preferring to drink himself numb, 
 
and lay blame at a careless God’s doorstep.
 
There lurks a hidden cavity,
a storage packet of sudden death, 
murky beneath  
dark, wet streets.
 
An officer of Laws for the Living 
 
escorts Mother down a dim hallway 
to a large viewing window where a
teenage boy lies in state under bright lights 
 
and hideous shroud of white sheet.

The blanched face revealed— 
 
Sightless eyes cannot see Mother,
Stopped arms cannot hug Mother, 
Silent voice cannot greet Mother,
Sealed lips cannot kiss Mother farewell. 
 
Comes the keening.

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Latin As A Second Language

Latin As A Second Language

“Do you understand Latin?” Mr. Horace, the principal, asked.
Standing my ground, I admitted to terra firma.
After all, I was in the midst of a second trimester of seventh grade Latin. 
At twelve years of age I was quite small then.
 
The spilled marbles cascading about the classroom had tripped me up. 
Needle and thread. 
I must remember me to patch the hole in my jacket pocket. 
Details. 

“Do you know what innuendo means?” Horace asked. 
He’d closed the door to his office.
“Vaguely,” I replied. "Insinuating something wicked about a valued classmate?"
"Close enough,” he said, torching up a cigar.
 
When Ms. Strangle heard the marbles roll, every girl 
in the class had turned and stared at me.
 
 How about ipso facto?” he asked.
“Never heard of it,” I admitted, silently cursing my ignorance. 
“I may have been down with malaria that day.”
I gave him a moment, then added, “Or something very much worse.”

“The enemy of one’s enemy, ipso facto, is a friend,” Mr. Horace recited proudly. 
“Ms. Strangle accuses you. Ray Cole and Doug Brender vouch for you.”
“Ipso facto,” I said. 
“Bully for them.”
 
When the marbles rolled, Ray, had stood and pointed at Lucky Lucy Rabbitz, a known felon.  
Lucky Lucy sat two desks behind me. She had done hard time somewhere in Tukwila. 
She sharpened her pencils as if she were honing carving knives.
The hair on my neck stood on end every time she came near.

“Are you at all familiar with locus delicti?” Horace asked. 
“Of course,” I replied. 
“The scene of a crime. But in this instance, no crime was committed.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” he said, blowing cigar smoke in my face.
 
Mom smoked cigars of course, but I got carsick when she did, so I never took it up. 
I felt the familiar gagging deep in my throat.
The air was so thick with cigar smoke I could barely make out Mr. Horace’s face.                        I fumbled through my Latin note cards. “Getting nauseous here,” I said.  

“Not my problem,” he replied.
“Do you play marbles during recess?’ he asked, his voice piercing the thick cloud.
“Interdum, I said. 
“When the mood strikes.”
 
“Did the mood strike you this morning?” he asked. 
He moved the cigar’s glowing tip close to my face.
“No. I played tetherball with my colleagues to relieve the stress brought 
on by studying Latin under the clumsy guidance of Ms. Strangle.”  

“Odd,” he said. “She thinks otherwise.”
 
“She has been misinformed,” I said. 
“An obvious instance of ad absurdum by a consortium of tattlers.” 
I added a footnote. “Let’s face it, some people are not cut out to teach seventh grade.”
I paused for effect. “But she might make a jim dandy cafeteria supervisor.” 

Mr. Horace giggled. 
“I was thinking the exact same thing,” he said, stubbing out the cigar on his desktop. 
“Off with you now, kid. Stay out of trouble. Do no harm. Go to law school. 
You’ve a knack for cover-up.  Et cetera.”
 
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Unqualified

Unqualified

I can insert key to lock,
peel an orange,
squeeze foot to socks—
 
but
 
I didn’t earn a 
Harvard Law degree,
or Stanford PhD—

I’m not a Rhodes scholar, 
or Oxford Fellow—
 
Cal Tech Engineer,
or win Summa Cum Laude.
 
 Lacking even a house cat’s
 portion of common sense,
 
has made my life a constant 
 
pothole.
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A Racist Bone

A Racist Bone

I don’t have one,
I don’t buy none.
I don’t borrow none, 
I don’t crave none.
 
No!
 
I don’t want a single one
them racist bones,

not underside my ribs,
‘tectin’ my heart— 
 
not overtop my skull,
shieldin’ my brain—
 
not ‘round my back,
bulwarkin’ my spine.
 
No! 

Day I’s born,
doctor don’t slap my backside
with one them  
 
racist bones,
 
and Mother don’t feed me up
with no gnawin’ on none those 
 
racist bones,

and my school don’t teach me
no ‘lectual 
 
racist bones,
 
and my church don’t hymn me
with no musical 
 
racist bones,

and my friends don’t pal me up with
"We in this together,"
racist bones.
 
No!
 
But just a second young man—
now I been thinkin’ ‘bout it
long time— 
goodly while—
indeed, mosta my life—

despite I lovin’ LeBron
roarin’ up court,
full steam ahead,
outta my way!
 
and marvel that Stephen Curry pest, 
shootin’ anywhere on court,
swishin’ ‘em like
nobody’s business—

why do I keep hopin’
 
yeah, why I be hopin’
 
quietly, 
so nobody notice me,
nobody hear me,
nobody notice me,
 
and if I don’t have no racist bone,
nowhere my body
growing inside me,

secret in my mind somewheres,
crouched down my heart chambers,
camouflaged in my soul,
 
all invisible like,
 
then,
 
why, 
I’m askin’ you why,

do I keep hopin’ some skinny
white kid come along,
 
someone like
 
Cousy, Bird, Pistol Pete,
 
all rolled up in one human concoction
like one them Thai spring rolls
all mixed up vegetables,
 
come along, 
 
and throw a barricade up on LeBron,
shuttin’ him down all good an’ proper,
 
and hold Mr. Curry to 18 measly,

all the while puttin’ up
a grand 42 and 12 unselfish shares
 
himself
 
on any given Saturday night?
 
If I sincere got no racist bone,
then why I be thinkin’ that way?
 
Like Miss Clavell say,
Somethin’ not quite right here. 

Could it be possible i got ‘fected
with one them racist viruses,
and it be festerin’ deep my marrow?
 
I sure as hell hope not!
 
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Goes Without Saying

Goes Without Saying

America’s 
 
biggest,
strongest,
fastest
young men
 
braver than brave—
 
cover their heads
with helmets
to protect their brains.
 
Cover your face,
 
fool—
 
a mask 
of caring,
compassion,
and yes,
 
 of courage
 
to protect everyone
 
else.
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In The Beginning

In The Beginning

Before a piece of writing
is published,
 
it is raw rhubarb,
sour to the senses. 
 
Granted, editing
is much easier now
 
than during the
quill and inkwell days
 
when supplies were dear
and research
meant visiting a library.
 
But editing is still
more the chore than treat.
 
There will always be a better 
word to be found,
 
a more precise 
image to be described,
 
and a sweeter 
sound of rhyme.
 
I suppose 
God 
wishes
our
 
useless appendix
was so easily remedied.
 
But then, that work 
took 
a mere seven days.