Ross White | Poetry

Despite water, despite nitrates, any plant wilts
under my tending, and when I explore that root,
I wonder what else wastes under my tenderness.

And still I say, I have not killed, and call that good
though I cannot trace God’s outline amid celestial lights
or on the pages of a Bible whose anagram is, too often,

bloodshed. The cockroach crushed underfoot,
the mouse-neck snapped in a trap beneath the sink—
I mouth my virtues guiltless. Who says love

for fellow man is dead? Tomorrow a child
with a gun will enter a school and shoot a child
without a gun. Or maybe the child who gets shot

will have a gun, too: who knows when tomorrow
will be, finally, hopeless. The whirring blades
of a lawnmower outside will mask the crack of air,

the startling bullet we all carry now in our psyches.
Is it any wonder I can’t keep a thing alive?
I once snuck a magnifying glass into the forest

to train the sun on ants. I let it simmer a squirrel
I found, its jaw pried open by death. Who says love
for fellow man isn’t subject to whatever definition

of man you’re using at the time? Blame the doors
to the schoolhouse for opening to the child.
Blame the video games and not the guns,

prescribed stimulants and not the guns, blame
pretty girls (or just victims, maybe, to save
a syllable) and not the guns. Blame the guns

and not the men who made them. Blame the men
dying of starvation, all for want of a single morsel
of divinity, and not the absent Father

whose compass points only in the direction
of sunset. And I say I have not killed, the commandment
sugar on my tongue, but I have poured handfuls

of pills in my mouth then spit them out
and been praised by the only people I ever told
for my bravery. I’ve already died the only death

that matters by thinking life could be worth
so little. It would be braver to live and let live
joyously, but what pumps through my veins

smells like gunpowder and iron. I never found
God or prophet in Quran or New Testament
but each page was a mirror in which I could

see the sinner for what he was. The murderous
brother, in his exile, bred half of mankind.
Tomorrow a child full of hurt will enter a school

and be shot by a child with his father’s rifle.
This is the image we are made to believe
we’re made in. Whoever says love won’t save you

has died the only death that matters, the death
of imagination. I am waiting for some fool dreamer
with a lyre to call me back from that afterlife.