Sacred/Scared ~ Lucas Southworth


The universe starts with a shot. A bullet at the beginning, an explosion expanding on.

The glint of a gun lies in the center of the street. A car passes over. A robin lands and perches its foot on the trigger. It aims, I think. It pecks the safety off.

My brother says: I changed the baby’s diaper yesterday and found a gun inside.

I say: Yesterday, I plunged the toilet and a gun floated up. It looked like it was dissolving against the porcelain, so I flushed again and that time it went.



My neighbor wears short skirts to show off a tattoo of a gun on her thigh. She tells me she has an entire arsenal in her house next to mine. She tells me her family has a room they call the gun room.

Don’t ever try to break in, she says.

Of course not, I say.

Not you, she says. I didn’t mean you.

Of course not, I say.

She takes a sip from her neon-yellow beer.

After I finish my yardwork, we make eye contact again.

I only have one, I tell her. I keep it in a shoebox in my closet. It’s nice to know it’s there. It is nice just to know.



My uncle calls to tell me he’s bought a silencer but has nothing to silence. My brother’s wife calls to tell me she wakes the kids every time she shoots.

I turn on some music, children’s songs where the composer has arranged gunshots as notes. A gun rotates on my record player, the needle scratching, an aggravating noise.

At the bottom of my coffee mug, a gun. At the museum, a hall of them. On TV, a commercial suggests we all drive guns instead. It says we should use four guns as tires with a fifth sticking its face out the window like a dog and a sixth lolling like a tongue.



The dryer chugs in the basement, a load of guns pounding out static.

In the park, a ring of small guns surround a larger one. Tulips circle the sculpture, piles of dirt and mulch. A crow flaps by, a gun with wings.



The president stares into the camera. Under his strange hair is his face like a gun, his eyes gun holes, his nose a cartridge or cylinder or clip, his mouth a curtain over a bullet hole in glass.

He says: Each immigrant has a gun for a forehead.

He says: In cities, everyone has guns for hands and that helps them carry even more guns.

He says: The police have guns too, and those are the ones that will save us.

When you’re hungry, he says, pop a gun in your mouth. It’ll fill you up like a balloon. It’ll play in your brain like a circus.



My neighbor’s dog barks and tears up her yard. Somehow he shimmies under the fence and tears up my yard too.

At least I don’t have to mow the lawn, I say.

The dog at her feet stares with eyes glassy as a gun. He pants like he’s just run a marathon.

Rex, my neighbor sings. Bad bad Rex.

Next time I’ll shoot him, I joke.

Her laughter carries all the way down the block. Do me the favor, she says.

She reaches over the fence and shows me her palm. The speck in it looks like dirt or dust or a bug. But it’s a gun, a really very tiny gun.



My father calls to tell me he’s coughed up a gun again, its handle spotted with blood. In the waiting room at the hospital, I whisper the word over and over, feeling the way it starts at the back of my throat, the heel of my tongue wet against the palate. Then there’s the exhale of the second letter and the curl of the last on my teeth.



I feed the guns in my friend’s aquarium too much flaky food. They eat every bite and die. Their bones are that vulnerable. The water that clear, the glass spotless.

In my basement, the tools all turn to guns. I trim the bushes with them anyway. I pull the ivy off.

The stamen of each Rhododendron is a gun. The radishes in my wife’s garden, bunches of pistols. The trees a line of rifles, semiautomatic.



A man who robbed me once said: Welcome to the gun show.

Why me? I asked.

Why not, he answered.

I fumbled for my wallet. I gave him thirty dollars.

Nothing means anything, I said.

A gun does, he said. A gun means everything.



At the flea market, a man stacks guns on his table as if he’s building a house out of children’s blocks. The pockets of his cargo shorts hang heavy with loose bullets.

He catches me looking and gives his pitch:

What if Goldilocks had one of these babies? he says. What if Dorothy, what if Cinderella, what if Little Red?

Under his hands, the guns are wet with grease.

You see what I’m saying? he asks.

I do, I reply.

Do you really see? he asks.

Yes, I say. It’s better to force sad endings on our own happy stories.



I open a book and find the words are rows of guns, all at different angles.

The book says: colonizers built their houses from guns, and the Native Americans showed them how to bury powder with their seeds. That first year they celebrated a miraculous harvest, a spread of muskets, a colorless array.

It says: when aliens come, we’ll shoot them. When they come again, we’ll shoot them again.

It says: there are 371 million guns in the United States and on average 268 Americans are shot each day.

It says: If a bullet refuses to fire, simply throw your gun like an awkward rock. Throw it like our ancestors once did, the very first weapons.



In the hotel drawer, I find a gun placed by the Gideons.

Inside a peapod, three round guns.

The heart of an artichoke, a gun. The pit of an avocado.

Out of an egg slips the yolk of a gun.

At the intersection of Gun Road and Pistol Lane, a fender bender. A fire. The mysterious smell of potato.

A day later, at the same corner, a duel. Two guns argue on the sidewalk. One says more, and one says less. One says magic, and the other says magic. One says pain, and the other says pain. One says lion, and the other says lion. One says fear. The other says fear.



My cousin writes to tell me he and his wife have decided to raise a gun like a child.

In a box of cereal, my sister finds a special prize. The toy in my niece’s Happy Meal, a plastic gun. The giveaway at a Mets’ game. The raffle at a charity auction.

A flag unfurls, a picture of a gun on it. The rabbits all have guns for ears. The snakes guns for fangs and tongues. The rats guns for tails and feet.

I settle onto my couch, alone, though I know my neighbors are close, in their houses, their televisions blazing. Outside, men walk up and down the streets and up and down the streets again. Outside, men have nowhere to go. And they have trench coats and pockets. And they have guns in them. Probably.



My neighbor tells me, her family calls Monday Gunday. They call Sunday Gunday too.

She describes how the family tradition is to take all their guns and arrange them in patterns on the furniture and walls. They oh and ah, and they say, that’s really nice, that’s really nice. They eat dinner with the guns scattered about.

Does it make you safe? I ask.

It makes us happy, she says.

She takes my hand and leads me up the stairs and into her cluttered house. We climb another flight and walk to the end of the hall.

There they are, on racks, behind glass.

She says: This is a good place.

Yes, I say.

She says: You don’t have be scared here. Not anymore.

But I am, I say. I am.