Skip to content
Menu

Poetry

Q: How do I use my bulletproof backpack?

A: Hold the bag between yourself and the threat using the straps as handles.
Use it as a shield to provide cover for your upper torso (vital organs). 

———————————Frequently Asked Questions, BulletBlocker Website

 

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother?
And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

———————————Genesis 4:9

 

So the story goes, the first human born
is a murderer—morð, secret killing. And when earth
drinks the blood, the Lord hears screaming.

Despite three thousand teenagers inside,
what the first responders hear is silence.
When the rounds hit hit hit hit hit

a body, they fragment, four bullets in one:
goodbye lung, goodbye liver, heart, bladder—
house of the soul in the Inuit myth, where raven

pierces the first bladder to let out light, hence day;
then Father takes it away, hence night. In the documentary
the paramedic says that when the first body

was carried from the school toward the ambulance,
she was relieved, knowing she could help, could
make something right. But then she saw

what had become of the six-year-old, barely
held together anymore. There is a pause, long for television—
five years after the massacre, she still can’t

tell the story. My mind fills in the details: like a marionette
whose strings are cut. It’s never answered why God was
impressed by the firstling of the flock but not

the fruit of the field. The favor of the Father,
the first source of envy. Such a male story: emphasis on
act and consequence, duty before dignity,

feelings that touch bathos then retreat into
minutiae. In the livestream of the rampage, the surprising
loudness of the shots makes end users on every continent

flinch. What once was a girl is lifted—blood puddle,
bright tile. Cain excited or terrified by the color inside
Edenic kin? They always say it:

We never thought it would happen here. I said it, too.
Tucson, Arizona; October 9, 2002. For five days news vans
are parked along the streets. I walk past before they go live;

the reporter checks his hair in the reflection of the window.
Cathy pops into my office: Lock your door. There’s a shooter
in the building. I wasn’t afraid until

I peeked into the hall, saw a black-clad SWAT team
scooting along the wall, rifles held vertical, a strict formality
that made the whole world seem shabby. It wasn’t real

until then, and then nothing was real. Let us go into the field,
the first brother says. The killer writes a twenty-page letter
detailing how he’s been wronged. Religious scholars justify

God’s bias, noting that Abel gave the best of his flock,
but nowhere in the canon does it say that Cain
gave the best of his field. The professor crawls beneath

the desk and begs to remain alive. Inside of time.
Bound by identity. Bound by body. Nourished by the un-
believably red rivers that comprise us, that flow and pulse

and carry, please, more oxygen, Please, I have a daughter.
Her name is Sam. In one version of the story, Eve is raped
by an archon, but we reject this for it offers a way out;

the mythic fundament is that inside each of us
is Cain. The dude on Facebook I haven’t seen since high school
said the government’s coming for all the guns.

If only God was in people’s homes, he waxes,
this would never happen. And then it happens again.
I am driving. The radio says forty-nine dead.

It happens again. I’m at a party and the news interrupts
and the music responds Turn off the hope you had for me,
Turn on the voice that cries again. I am walking and see

a helicopter circling and I know it’s happening—
Turn off the lights, turn on the rain. The older brother
puts his hand on the small of the younger’s back

and leads him to the ultimate unnamed thing.
During the funeral service we release three white doves.
We had to obtain a special permit from the county.

Had we been unable, our backup plan was balloons,
until someone said, This is not a celebration—the word
drawn out as the tears turned on and our faces became

masks of Greek tragedy. Some of us still go around that way,
unable to right the frown. It’s been seventeen years.
The corners of our eyes reaching down

almost to the jawline. Can you hear them? I’m asked
in a dream as I pick up the shining casings.
And for a moment I do, like a sudden

soundtrack, screams of joy and laughter in the empty
playground. Each day I think—fifteen, twenty, fifty times—
if the shooting begins now, what will I do?

In the bathroom, the copy room lunchroom parking lot?
In the library with the twelve-year-olds
in their favorite shirts and bangles, rounding the hall corner

hit hit hit as the smoke bombs ignite? In the documentary
the janitor asks rhetorically Does a day go by
when I don’t think of it? Abel turns, surprised.

Does an hour go by? One white dove flies, lands in a tree
and stays until we begin to fold up the chairs. Do five minutes
go by without thinking of it? Cain, aching

for Father-love, lifts a spike like a raven’s beak.
It can’t always be light, the first story reminds.
And when the world breaks, you look for yourself
————————————–———in the details.

 

 


Christopher Nelson is the author of Blood Aria (Wisconsin) and three chapbooks, including Blue House (Poetry Society of America) and Capital City at Midnight (Bloom Chapbook Prize). He is founder and editor of Green Linden Press and the journal Under a Warm Green Linden.
www.christophernelson.info

 

Image depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.

+ Click here to make a donation.

+ Click here to subscribe to Image.


The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

If you like Image, you’ll love ImageUpdate.

Subscribe to our free newsletter here: