by Conor Bracken
Featured Art: Star and Flag Design Quilt by Fred Hassebrock
Here I am inside a firing range.
Loading and holding and aiming a pistol
the way America has taught me.
Hitting the paper target in
the neck the mullet the arm the arm.
The old-growth pines inside me
do not burst into orange choruses of flame.
I am disappointed I’m not making
a tidy cluster center mass.
Around me fathers and offspring
as plain as stop signs give
each other tips while they reload.
A man one stall over cycles between a revolver and a rifle
while another draws a Glock
from a hidden waistband holster
over and over again, calibrating
his shift from civilian to combat stance
with the dead-eyed focus of a Christmas shopper.
These could be my people.
If I never talked
about the stolid forest inside me
planted by those I do and do not know
who died because America allows you
however many guns and rounds you can afford—
if I never talked about my manliness
that runs cockeyed through the forest
trying to evolve into an ax or flame or bulldozer
so it can be the tallest, most elaborate apparatus
taming local wind into breath,
they might give me a nickname.
I could practice training my fear with them
like ivy across a soot-blacked brick façade
and they might call me The Ruminator.
We’d grow so close that they would call me late at night
asking for an alibi again
and if I asked groggily ‘who’s this’
they’d say ‘you know who’
and I would.
Their name blooming from my mouth
like a bubble or a muzzle flash.
fooled out of the ground
by the gaps in winter’s final gasps.
Conor Bracken is the author of Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour (Bull City Press, 2017), winner of the fifth annual Frost Place Chapbook Competition, and translator of Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s Scorpionic Sun (CSU Poetry Center, 2019). His poems and translations appear in places like 32 Poems, BOMB, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Waxwing, and elsewhere. An assistant poetry editor at Four Way Review, he is on the English faculty at the University of Findlay.