“Papa’s Shotgun” by William Harry Harding

William Harry Harding


for my daughter, who worries

Life got it wrong—
not a Boss double-barreled shotgun
from Abercrombie & Fitch,
but a pigeon gun, a W&C Scott & Son
long barrel, side-by-side 12 gauge,
the one he hunted ducks with in Italy,
took on safari in East Africa.
After Ketchum, a local welder cut up
the steel pieces with an oxy-acetylene torch,
smashed the stock, buried everything
in a local Idaho field. Some souvenirs, though,
kept in a match box, bits so small, yet enough
to identify the weapon. His favorite, but
not his only gun. His first, a gift at age 5
and costing 75 cents, was a Markham King
air rifle, circa 1904 and a far cry
from the Thompson submachine gun he used
to shoot at sharks in the Gulf Stream to keep them off
a just-caught prize Marlin. He relied on his .22 rifle
to wound an intruder crawling out a bathroom window
at Finca Vigía, that house in the outskirts of Havana,
the place he got the news he’d won the Nobel Prize.
My shotgun is a Pointer semiautomatic 20 gauge.
Less kick than Hemingway’s, and lighter. It won’t travel
to Italy or Africa or anywhere beyond my property.
It accepts five rounds. First, and ready in the chamber,
bird shot: not enough to wound a coyote, just scare it off.
The remaining rounds are lethal, just in case. I carry it
hoisted on a shoulder, safety on, as I walk the swales
of this little paradise, hoping
never to have to pull the trigger, hoping
things don’t get that bad or dark or scary or hopeless.
Each morning it feels cold to the touch.

from Rattle #79, Spring 2023


William Harry Harding: “Sometimes, writing poems connects me to my heroes and my demons in ways that writing novels can’t. This poem helped my daughter and me bring suicidal ideation to the kitchen table, where we discuss it as if it was ordinary, like breakfast, and something to be discussed head-on.”

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