“How to Talk About Guns in America” by Elizabeth Coyle

Elizabeth Coyle



Talk instead about the sickness,
about the incredible pain
a person must be in to commit such violence.
But don’t talk about the dry heaves
that kept you up for two nights
before your brother’s graduation.

Speak in academic terms. Say words
like misogyny and terrorism and media.
Then you will sound far away
and meaningless and people
won’t have to listen or access
their own pain.

Mention the numbers:
the body count, the helping hands,
the teddy bears left in the morning.
Don’t let statistics bog you down
though. Don’t tell people you haven’t
been to a movie since 2017.

You can’t remember how it ended.
You spent the whole time
watching men arrive late and sit
at the end of your row, every breath
burning its way through stomach acid
at the back of your throat. You had
to clench your knees to your seat
to keep from running.

It’s okay to say that if you were a teenager,
you’d beg your parents to keep you home.
Say it with a touch of nostalgia and
rightly placed horror. But don’t tell people
that you won’t have children in this country
out of fear that you’ll lose them
in a shivering pile on the cafeteria floor
before they’re even old enough
to subtract. Definitely pray.

Because if the only time you talk to god
is when there’s bodies on the floor
of the supermarket or festival or
office building or movie theater or
night club or school or
other people’s church,
then you must be talking to god every day.
You must be thinking about becoming a preacher.

Don’t write this poem instead of sleeping.
Don’t lay on the floor after a shooting, typing
this into your phone. Because you will be interrupted
by a notification that another shooting is in progress.
You will realize that you know too many people
and that one day they will be killed in this same way,
as a passing news story. You will cry.
You will probably be crying when people read this.
More people will probably be dead.

from Poets Respond
August 11, 2019


Elizabeth Coyle: “I am exhausted.” (web)

Rattle Logo