Poem Not Ending with Blossoms


Think of an oar, the cop said, & I pictured one
                                                                                             raised & dripping
above the waves, how it slices through water or, if you turn it,

it’ll slam against the surface instead, the metaphor intended
to explain the difference between hollow point & round nose

bullets, although the more
                                                        I imagined the gripped oar, its dip
or clumsy splash, the further I seemed to drift from the work

of any gun, yet without ever gliding
                                                                         from here, this once-
bustling, fluorescent-lit seventh floor space that used to be

Police Headquarters but had been gutted after the move to county,
leaving behind only a few detectives to wade through decades

of rape kits & Fed-Ex boxes of narcotics in a storehouse maze
that ended in what had been
                                                             a communal shower, now crowded

with trash bags stuffed with heroin & guarded by a display
of horror hostess Elvira adorned with a respirator mask. He offered

another comparison—it’s a choice between
                                                                                         an icepick or hammer
passing through your chest—cued perhaps by the Property Room

we had toured upstairs, a place where everything linked
to a violent crime was grouped
                                                                 by semblance in untidy heaps:

toasters crowding shelves next to microwaves, laptops stacked
near rows of flat screen TVs, & sledgehammers tossed

on a cord-tangled mess
                                                   of nail guns & drills. There were guns,
of course—more than forty thousand, piled into filing cabinets,

shopping carts, or rain barrels, depending on their size. Over here
he pointed to a mannequin head perched on six prosthetic limbs—

we’re trying to make a full body,
                                                                  but only have a head & those legs.
Why, I asked—since it seemed worth asking—are there so many

baby swings in here? Sometimes,
                                                                     you don’t want to know. But
because I’d wanted to know how a bullet works for reasons

I can no longer explain,
                                                he led me downstairs to Bertha,
a test-fire tank made from plexiglass, pool liners, & iron beams.

The name just suits her. She’s sturdy, reliable, & takes bullets
all day without complaint. Industrial gray, with a tiny flag

tucked between her exhaust fan & switch, Bertha reminded me
of something
                             from the off-limits corner of shop class where

instead of building birdhouses, we spent our time folding
sheets of metal until they became
                                                                       blade-like things we loved

to hold, wield, jab, content to wound
                                                                           nothing but air. And how
did it feel to test fire thousands of guns each year? Boring,

he said. It leaves you deaf
                                                      & stuck with a bunch of water
too polluted to dump. Then he loaded two hollow points,

slipped his Glock into Bertha’s PVC pipe,
                                                                                   called out Ears for two!
& fired both rounds. The sound of gunshots were chased

by the metallic chime of cartridges dropping to the floor,
a slow slosh of water, one screw rolling in half circles

across the tank’s trapdoor. Call that an American song
& nothing happens
                                         or worse. Although perhaps it’s worse

to admit that after he netted the metal nubs & placed them
into my hand, their split tips
                                                          curling back in petal-like shapes

extending from a center copper speck, the word blossom was all
that came to mind. Even if,
                                                        months later, I saw some earrings online

made from the same kind of bullets, each one flower-shaped
& described by the artist as clear coated & tumbled

to a smooth finish, that doesn’t change how much I’d wished
for a different word to hold
                                                        in that cramped room as little waves

moved, then stopped. It’s possible
                                                                       the figurative ran its course
here a while back. Do we really need a personified tank

& metaphor of an oar smacking the surface
                                                                                          of a lake where
they pour Bertha’s lead-tainted water each week to understand

we’re paddling nowhere at all? Once, the cop told me, they received
a call about someone bleeding on a bus. They pulled the vehicle over

& found a guy holding a tree branch
                                                                           he was using to dig into
his calf. I’m still trying to picture this, still trying to form

the image of the man & the branch
                                                                         he held. It was November.
Nothing was blooming in Cleveland yet again when he told them

hell yes, he’d been shot, a few blocks back. Fuck off, kindly
leave him alone, & he’d just get the hell on with his day.

(winner of the Editors’ Prize for issue 31&2)