Gnashing Teeth Publishing

| words that get in your teeth

An American History by James Lilliefors

The Gun won
the American Revolution
(a flintlock musket then)
and gave us freedom.
It won the Civil War
and gave us unity
(killing hundreds of thousands
of soldiers; on both sides).
Then it settled down
to a quiet American life,
a symbol and a right,
and gave us strength.

This is the history we were taught.
But there is more:
In return for all this,
America gave the Gun
respect, and power,
so much so that, with time,
the Gun became things
that were never intended
– a bully, a boor, a hostage-taker –
engaging in lesser,
less honorable battles
(although these, too, it won).

Eventually, emboldened
beyond reason, the Gun
went to places it didn’t belong,
killing scores of Americans
over nothing.

“All Jews must die,” cried the man
who carried the Gun into
a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018,
killing eleven during Shabat service.

A young man took the Gun
to a Texas Wal-Mart months later
and left 23 shoppers
dead in the aisles.
He was trying to
stop a Hispanic invasion, he said.
In 2022, a boy bought
an AR-15 for his 18th birthday
and used it to kill
19 schoolchildren.
He wanted to get himself
“all over the news,” he said.

Those who carried the Gun
to these killings
are themselves now dead
or in prison.
But the Gun remains at large.
It holds America hostage today,
and no one knows what to do.

But listen: This is an American story.
A complicated history, some say,
that might also be told
with the simplicity of
a three-word advertising jingle:
The Gun won.
The Gun won.

It is an American history
that could end with a question mark.
Or a question (or, even, an answer).
If the winners write the history,
who, then, will write a
proper ending to this one?

Bio: James Lilliefors is a poet, journalist, and novelist whose writing has appeared in Ploughshares, The Washington Post, Snake Nation Review, Intangible, The Baltimore Sun and elsewhere. He has published several novels and is a former writing fellow at the University of Virginia.

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