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By Patricia Monaghan

They were always taught that all guns were loaded.
It was a way, he said, to keep them safe.
Don't you notice, he said, how people get shot
by pistols they think are unloaded? The gun
on the living room shelf, the unhidden
luger, the rack full of rifles: the children

knew each one was death. Now children,
he'd ask, his hand on a gun, is this loaded?
Mute chorus of yes. Mute yearning to hide.
That was their home. At school they were safe
even when textbooks talked about guns
and described how the buffalo hunters would shoot

and buffalo crumple down dead, one shot
enough to bring down the biggest. No child
in that school had ever seen bison, gunned
down or living, seen meat being loaded
on travois by leather-clad scouts, safety
bolts on their guns; no child had worn hides

or rode on the plains. But in history hid
critical truths that they sought about shooting
and fear and escape. Learn and be safe,
history whispered its promise to children
like them, learn and be safe. But a loaded
gun holds only one promise. A gun,

any gun, threatens use of a gun
no matter how they tried to hide
in books, no matter how they loaded
themselves down with schoolwork. A shot
or two in the evening, then, children,
he'd say, don't think the world's safe,

then he'd tell how once he had saved
someone's life with that very gun
over there on the wall and then children,
he'd say, be prepared for the worst, never hide
from attackers, they all deserve shooting,
so all guns must always be loaded.

Even dreams weren't safe, for hiding
in them were guns, aimed, ready to shoot.
Even children know this: loading leads to unloading.

Added: Wednesday, July 9, 2014  /  From "Homefront," (WordTech, 2005). Used with permission.
Patricia Monaghan

Patricia Monaghan (1946-2012) died on November 11, 2012 in her Wisconsin home, Brigit Rest, in the arms of her beloved husband Michael McDermott. Homefront is a collection about the effect of war on veterans' return to their families and the damage to both. Patricia was a poet, scholar, spiritual pioneer and practitioner, activist, gardener and endlessly energetic creator.

Patricia co-founded the Black Earth Institute with Michael and recently co-founded the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology. The Institute is dedicated to artists serving the causes of inclusive spirituality, healing and protecting the earth and social justice. Patricia published over 20 books including many of poetry.  She was awarded a Pushcart Prize among many others. She was also an active supporter of Split This Rock. Monaghan presented on the panel Giving Voice to the Silence/d at Split This Rock Poetry Festival:Poems of Provocation and Witness 2010.

Other poems by this author