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Shooting Below the School Building

Holy is the muzzle-flash, the blood-speck
on my thumb’s knuckle where my hand met

the gun’s recoil above hoof and paw prints
tracing snow, thickening only to disappear.

Earth held ice around us. No halo here
but trigger-guard, no prayer but aim.

The iced creek—where our students escaped
to grope or smoke, hiding cigarettes

in a stone-sunk ammo-can—gurgled
its small life. We left their stash and kept

shooting bottles. The art-teacher (his guns)
told me These kids plain don’t care:

how in Pennsylvania five young girls died,
a grown-man killing in a one-room

schoolhouse: one of our students
joked, some laughed. You can’t teach against

that sort of senselessness
, the art
teacher said, bracing. One of the girls,

speaking only German, did escape,
not understanding the shooter’s words,

but running to a nearby farm
while others offered to die

so their classmates might live,
well-schooled to the meaning of salvation.

I didn’t hit much, but kept reloading,
stripping gloves and fixing rounds

to chambers, tossing spent shells
into the creek. No balm

but repetition: fire and re-load, like writing
words on a blackboard until they’ve lost

meaning, not glancing backwards, but trusting
the hand to spell each sentence the same.


Posted 05/15/13
Originally appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review 47 (Fall 2010)
Books by Luke Johnson
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