Raleigh Review vol. 6, no. 1 (spring 2016), pp. 52-53.
Ballad (American, 21st Century)
by Wayne Miller
That spring, the shooter was everywhere—
shot from our minds into the hedgerows,
the pickup beds and second-floor windows,
the hillocks and tentacled live oaks. And sometimes
he was tracking us with the dilated
pupil at the tip of his rifle. His bullets spun
into the theater’s stop-sign faces, the tessellated
car lots beyond the exits; they tore holes
in our restaurants and vinyl siding, those fiberglass
teacups we clamored into at the county fair.
Though you don’t remember it, Little Bear,
a bullet crossed right in front of your car seat—
then window glass covered you like bits
of clouded ice, and the rain came pouring in
as I raced for shelter at the Wendy’s off Exit 10.
Every night we kept our curtains drawn,
and while your mother slept I sat alone
in the bathroom dark watching the news surface
into the ice-cut window of my cell phone.
They said the shooter was in Saint Louis
shooting up a middle school gym, then
he’d gone to the beach, where he killed a girl
pouring sand from a cup into a sandwich tin.
(Nevertheless, I pictured his face as a cloud
of insects hovering in the blackest corner
of the empty lot across the street.) At work
they walked us through scenarios—what to throw
if he came through my classroom door,
how to arm the students (desks!)
for counterattack. And when he came—
and when those next four people were erased—
they trapped him in a high-speed chase
toward the touchless carwash, where the cops
encircled him and, rather than relent,
he put his rifle barrel to his mouth like the mouth
of a test tube from some childhood experiment.