2015-2016 WINNER, COG POETRY AWARDS

 

Prologue

Anne Harding Woodworth

                                                           

It’s been taken into custody,
incarcerated on death row,
where it awaits the end,
like the last pharaoh of Egypt.
In time archeology will reveal
the phenomenon of the gun.
Meanwhile, guards come and go.
They converse with the condemned,
speak kindly, remembering fondly
the days when heat was snug in their holster.
Sometimes, as in this case, solitary
is an opportunity for the condemned
to meditate, to consider history, destiny,
ethnicity, to weigh choices,
to think about the past
and the perception of self,
to ask questions, to contemplate
a state of being that is no more
and how one gets there,
what river one must cross over.

Gun Contemplates Methods of Execution

Anne Harding Woodworth

                                                           

Electric Chair?

Out of the question.
Talk about cruel and unusual.
Electricity would seek
the metal in me faster
than the speed of light,
and I would heat up,
buzz,
sizzle,
explode
louder than even I am accustomed to.
The finger that pulls the switch
would be a sorry excuse
for one that pulls a trigger.

Hanging?

If I were to hang, I would endure,
at least as a clock’s pendulum,


dangling by a rope tied around my barrel.
So recycled, I would move slowly


to the rhythms of the earth, telling time,
counting the minutes that measure


what some call the new order of trust.
My trigger would tempt idle fingers,


and they would reach for me
but never manage to grab onto me—


my arc defining the swings of thought.
After a time, they would forget.


After a time, the clock would stop,
and I’d be good as dead.

Firing Squad?

I’ve known all along
I’d choose the firing squad,
if I really had a say
in all of this, which I don’t.
It’s the safest.
Sure, call me a coward.
But think about it.
None of my own kind
are left to turn on me.
The squad would stand
at the ready, empty handed.
I’d be facing away from them,
not the aimer I’ve always been.
And when the command is given,
they’d blow words at me
out of their mouths.
Some words set to music,
some spoken in meter and rhyme.
Rat-a-tat repetition, while the 1812 Overture
soothed me from the parapet.
I would load myself with the lines,
the music, the bombs bursting in air,
before lying down intact, in perpetuity,
attempting to fill what is empty.

 

Burial Possibilities

Anne Harding Woodworth

                                                           

I’m from an old family
with a well-known name.

I would like to be buried
with my ancestors,

who have contributed
substantially to history.

Without them just think
how different our timeline

would be: no wars,
                       no assassinations,
                                    no home-protection,
                                                no hunting.

Gone would be all the things
that make our world a better place,

a safer place, a thrilling place.
I’d like to have a plot that’s lushly green,

perhaps in Utah or Arizona, where all those
from around the world who have loved me—

and there are many—could visit me,
talk to me, tell me how much I am missed.

I’d like the space to be a gathering place
for my admirers, rememberers, the once-armed,

who would place beer cans and cigarette packs
in my memory. And I’d like a tombstone,

maybe one like what an ancient pharaoh
would have, an obelisk, on which is repeated

over and over again in hieroglyphs
cut deep into the veins of the granite:

Here lies the last one, discharged.

 
 

Epilogue: Anubis Speaks

Anne Harding Woodworth

                                                           

 

I will embalm the gun,
dip it in antimony salts and mercury
to preserve the image
of a life that is no more.
I will detach grip and trigger.
Both have fingerprints
that cannot be erased thoroughly,
but I will try before I reattach
the parts to the body. History
must be able to interpret design
and intention centuries from now.
I will hook the bullet, pull it
through the barrel nose,
steep it in formaldehyde
and return it to its chamber.
History must be able
to decipher the bullet’s use
as the empowering heart
of a cherished anatomy.
I will wrap the gun in linen strips,
brush them with sweet resin
to conceal the stench of death.
And I will place tokens
within the wrappings,
a sword, a toy, a raven,
a rose, a razorblade.
This is my duty:
to prepare a thing for the journey
across the river,
where it will be judged
for its deeds on earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Gun opens with smoke and closes with a bang. These poems toggle between the spirits of the living and the spirits the living carry into death “to ask questions, to contemplate a state of being that is no more.” These poems care about what we carry with us on our journeys and how others hold us in memory. As a reader, you’ll find that The Last Gun is “a gathering place for… admirers, rememberers, the once-armed,” and this poet has prepared us both “for the journey…where it will be judged,” and for the “deeds on earth.”    

- A. Van Jordan

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