American Bachelor Party

by Conor Bracken

Featured Art: Star and Flag Design Quilt by Fred Hassebrock
Read by the author.

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.


Virginia Slim.

Spider, even.

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.


A flower

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.

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