“Gun Control” by Carol Muske-Dukes.

“Gun Control”

“Gun Control”

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A weekly poem, read by the author.
Dec. 18 2012 8:30 AM

“Gun Control”

A boy looks at guns in a case.

Photograph by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images.

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Carol Muske-Dukes read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.


When the older brother, horsing around, opened fire
With the 12 gauge and shot his little brother in the back,
my Aunt Anna pressed her open


Hand over the wound, over the blown right lung.
Blood stuttered up
through her fingers. As he began to slide away,
she kept
her hand hard-flat against that death.
At Emergency, they had to pry

It away. He survived that night.
When he takes his shirt off today, at the lake,
You can see the bleach-white stretch where
No hair grows and the skin thins to
Her imprint—a hand-span—just under his shoulder
Where a wing, if we had wings, might begin to unfurl.


I said, “He’s going to hurt someone”—and the Director,
As he had been instructed by those far above the precincts
of the Workshop, told me nothing could be done until he did.


So he wrote things that spun his hurt and jagged plan round
Each other like the knife feints of the blood-masked Jack
the Ripper—“surgeon in the bee-loud glade,” he wrote.
If the blood jet was Poetry, Jack would sip demi-liters from

My neck and the neck of the girl sitting next to him.
He shouted out in my class that we were married, he
Would prove it “someday.” Skipping his meds,
Flinging a lit smoke. At the campus bar, he

broke the bottle kept in his pack—vaulted
over to cut the bartender’s throat. They tackled
him. But he shook free, reached for the gun,

ready to open fire. They called the Psych
Center there “Workshop East”: I remember that.


Late at a Hollywood dinner party, he leaned in to me,
Hair over one eye, smiling in that boyish seductive style,
So familiar from the Big Screen. Seriously drunk.
He was telling me what he feared most “on this earth”:
“Waking up in bed to find someone standing over me
with a gun.” Later I heard how he did it—
ln bed, pistol to his temple. When the man with the Glock
floated over him: he knew he was all he’d ever feared.

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Carol Muske-Dukes is professor of creative writing and English at USC and the author of eight books of poems, most recently Twin Cities.