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Thoughts & Prayers

[Listen to an audio version of this poem here.]

This poem is not based on a true story. It is a poem. It is a story.

Like everyone, I am gutted from the most recent school shooting. I am numb to the atrocities of a country where such violence is not uncommon. I think a lot of us feel like we should say something, but what? Like we should do something, but how? It seems uncomplicated to ban assault weapons. To implement more stringent background checks for the most deadly of guns, and yet. Not everyone should have a gun, and no civilian should have an assault rifle. Just like not everybody should be able to drive a car. The insanity of ignoring the obvious is infuriating.

We say it is a mental health issue, while making mental health care expensive and inaccessible to the very people who need it most. We say it's not the gun, it's the shooter, ignoring the fact that without the weapon, the shooter is unequipped to shoot. We say we care about the lives of everyone, yet we dangle in a void, wondering what can be done. In feeling powerless to change anything, I turned to poetry. Not because it helps anyone, but because sometimes, words are all we have. And sometimes, words matter.

Thoughts & Prayers

when I was young

I'd sit and watch my father

clean his gun

a Winchester 70

he used to hunt deer

I didn't place guns and fear

in the same sentence, then

kept my innocence

when we were young

we went to school every day

said the Pledge of Allegiance

an American flag hanging

from the chalkboard

freedom isn't free they say

this is the land of the brave

home of the great

when we were young

Mrs. Johnson gave us popsicles

to welcome summer break

red rings of sweetness framing our faces

red like a Midwest sunset

red like a target

red like blood

and we sang God bless America

land that I love

when I was young

I learned about war

in a theoretical sense

learned that my grandfather

was in Vietnam and worked

on Navy ship

but he never talks about it

he can't

witnessing murder buries a hurt so deep

it bleeds into everything

when we were young

there was a parade on Veterans Day

we sang the national anthem

oh say, can't you see?

and my grandfather stood proudly

and we clapped, loudly

America America

God shed his wrath on thee

when I was young

I asked Mrs. Johnson

why there were men outside

and I was told to hold my tongue

told to wait

told it wasn't safe, yet

and I hid beneath my desk

ever since, we teach our children

to practice being murdered

tell teachers this is the new normal

tell parents not to worry

tell the world children

are priority

this is America

where at least we think we're free

when we were young

we took a field trip to a cave

saved dollars for the gift shop

where Mrs. Johnson gave us all

a tumbled rock as a keepsake

we stood at the bottom

of the cave

deep as an anchor

deep as a grave

nothing is as dark as it is underground

nothing can muffle the sound of screaming

nothing can cease

the gunfire bleeding

war is a pretty artsy metaphor

for shit that don't make sense

like unmitigated violence

like lawmakers standing up

for the rights of guns

with more veracity than

they fight for real human beings

when we were young

we had the world at our feet

had that wide-eyed belief

in everything

believed what they told us

freedom isn't free

but this is a land of savagery

and bloodshed

a never-ending news cycle

widespread denial

aren't you tired?

when I was young

I never thought I would grow up

but I did

never expected children

to be the ones not to live

today, in the aftermath

of another massacre

we offer thoughts and pray

that the stairway to heaven

is paved in gold for our babies

nobody knows what else to say

the weight of disgrace

hangs heavy on our tongues

tomorrow, the news anchors

will move on to another tragedy

gaze into cameras and smile

aren't you tired?

P.S. Read "In the Loop" by Bob Hickock, who worked at Virginia Tech in 2007 during the time of that shooting or read about how other countries regulate guns here.


Sarah Rose

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