On Remaining Neutral While Your Five-Year-Old Handles a Gun

Because I am finding my way through this fear of routine massacres in America.
Because it is so mysterious to me to raise a son.
Because I really have strong feelings about guns—
here’s a poem:



It takes practice. It must,
to find just the right balance,
the right way to sift, to modulate energy,
attitude, so he won’t walk
back to the car, eyes glued to asphalt,
filled with rapture or
steeped in judgment,
after touching that thing. You want
him to be infused with nothing but sky. The barrel
is propped (mounted, I guess) on the edge
of a Vietnam copter. A boy
in fatigues keeps watch, with a personal
Airsoft lazily tossed beneath the seat
of the vintage machine he’s been left with.
A boy in fatigues. Left with a Vietnam copter.
The gun’s metal is dull, not the sleek shine
your son’s mind was led to expect by the small
doses of gunplay he’s been able to see
in his carefully-crafted home environment.
Softly, softly, he asks, Mom, what’s this?
His small hands lift and lower the gun on
its perch, no sign of bullets, or battle, or death.
A gun, you answer, so cool. His hands flutter
a moment, then return with a question.
It won’t work anymore, you tell him. Again,
so cool. What was it for? For war. Four days
later, up north, one more young man, barely
a man, releases his misplaced white-hot vitriol into the bodies
of students. Your crafted, elusive
equanimity gone, you unloose all your anger
and fear of the gun not in your home (hush!) but on
Facebook. You even piss off your sister-
in-law. The way we can walk with such marked
restraint amidst casual displays of masculine
violence is itself an object of wonder, you think.
And while you lie on your bed, frazzled and knowing
the sweet, twisted, quite normal joy
of kids being kids, while you fervently
wish the NRA could truly be sent
to a hell you know
will never, ever exist, your five-year-old
wanders in. Elbows propped, small hands under chin:
Mom, I really want a dart-gun.
Shit. It takes practice.


© 2015 Amy Elizabeth Robinson



9 thoughts on “On Remaining Neutral While Your Five-Year-Old Handles a Gun

    • May I say to you that I respect the well-thought-out and firmly held preferences of others. As its incumbent upon them to respect mine. If you don’t want a gun in your home, may I suggest that you not have a gun in your home. Just don’t try to take away – or support others who would try to take away – my legally obtained guns. There is precious little room for neutrality here! As a friend of mine quips, “there’s nothing wrong with being a pacifist; as long as you accept the fact there will always be someone bigger and stronger than you ready to put their boot on your throat!

      The answer to gun violence isn’t less guns but more. Criminals look for victims; not adversaries. Even in their twisted minds, they will think twice about entering a building if they know they’ll likely be shot dead by well-trained and well prepared personnel in any given facility. That’s just the way it is.

      Be of good cheer
      Long live the Republic and
      May God continue to be merciful to these United States of America!

  1. I love the topic and the gentle way you unravel such harsh realities. We live in the belly of the beast. Sons and daughters are at risk as they absorb it all. Sons in this particular way. I think you could find a better way to express the last line than “shit”. It feels like you want to express that moment of profound challenge but can’t quite manage it. I remember my cousin in Neb. and his small town military museum. His volunteer work that, no doubt, takes up a lot of his time. I feel so alienated from him. How can we ever bridge these things.

    Your poem is a wonderful foot path through the maze.

    • Thank you, Adrienne. I think about this so much, and the look on my son’s face when he first touched that gun was haunting me in advance of Roseburg. They had to come together.

      I put in the word “Shit,” and took it out, and put it in, and so forth, for a while. But I wanted it to be real to how we really are responding. And that is the word that most parents I know would really use in that moment. Also, in the line I saw that it has an awkward, horrible relationship to Jeb Bush’s comment, “Stuff happens.” Shit takes practice.

      • I could be wrong. My mother was very clear that “those words” were lazy and disrespectful. I may still have an emotional over reaction…

        Sending you love.

        • Ha! I took a workshop with Kim Addonizio last fall and she told me, in particular, to practice using words I think I am not allowed to say. It’s been a revelation, a liberation, part of my practice. Onward!

  2. Thank you for your honestly Amy. Over and over again, when events happen that destroy yet another part of our little universe, our souls, our minds, it’s never easy to figure out which words work best. But for you to share your thoughts has helped in ways that only good writing can do. I read in the above that you wondered about using the word “shit.” I’m glad you did. It helped tie this piece together, kept it grounded and out of the mouth of a mother/parent. Although I posted some rambling on fb, I have not been able to do anything creative with the terrible news from Oct 1st. I did, however; share your poem on my fb page.

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