“When I Heard About the Gunman” by Alison Luterman

Alison Luterman


who opened fire in a movie theatre,
armed and armored, neck, groin and head;
gas-masked, with automatic rifle
killing and wounding as many as he could,
I was endeavoring to wedge my car
into the space left between hulking SUVs
at the crowded grocery store
and the radio was on; it always is.

Inside, pushing a cart—bread, raspberries, half and half—
I thought of him, but more,
I thought of us, as we maneuvered
politely around each other, avoiding eye contact,
murmuring excuse me, sorry, thanks.
The crowded aisles, the lady with thin
stringy hair who paused too long in front of the eggs.
I could see her inner debate: free-range or vegetarian feed?
Organic? Brown or white?
while disgruntled rush-hour shoppers
log-jammed around her
and I stood on one foot then the other, practicing deep breaths.

Notice how none of us, at that moment at least,
were killing each other, except perhaps in our heads,
where who knows what kinds of bombs were going off.
But the surface seemed normal, if a bit frayed.
Am I saying normal is the same as civil
or its opposite?
We’re part beast, part angel,
most of us, and now I’m remembering a woman I knew
who went crazy, that is to say her mind
crazed like a pane of glass after an earthquake—
the form still clinging to its familiar frame
but spider-webbed with cracks.
She went there, as if crazy were a place you’d go
like Winnemucca or Hackensack.
I could see her packing her bags for it,
her eyes and stories getting wilder,
all the while pretending she had a choice
in the matter, she might be back next week.
But of course she wasn’t.

Corn’s looking good today in its pale green sheath,
its tassels intact despite the drought,
despite what the news says about everything dying.
I nod at the man who’s jockeying
to get ahead of me in the check-out line,
then remember I forgot paper towels and coffee,
so park my cart to run and get them.
When I return it’s still there, filled
with all the stuff I plan to eat and use,
and this is how we live our daily news.

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013


Alison Luterman: “I live in a crowded, tense city with plenty of gun violence—unfortunately we’ve already had a string of shootings this year. I am all too aware of the aggression in myself, lurking always just below the surface, as well as in the people around me. If I could wave a magic wand and make all guns disappear, I would.”

Rattle Logo