after a gun shop billboard on I-65 South
This exit is 9,000 Guns,
an interstate promise
of stock and barrel
like the first ones I held,
grade-school hands aiming
at dragonflies and snakes
in a West Tennessee creek,
my mother and stepfather
behind me, leaning in
to steady my grip.
This exit is the backyard
where I became a sniper,
curious and armed
with a Daisy carbine.
I still hear the metal rain
of BBs loaded into the reservoir.
I still hear the neighbor’s dog yelp,
see him cower and run
when I hit my mark.
This exit is the bedroom
where my mother pointed
a rifle at my stepfather’s nose
while I clicked through
Apollo 11 View-Master scenes
in my room across the hall.
This exit is the county field
where a class of tenth-graders
stepped off a yellow school bus,
lined up to load shotguns,
fire them into the grey sky.
Coach wore red flannel that day
and graded on a curve. I missed
my clay pigeon but still passed
the hunter’s safety final.
This exit is the Scottsdale Gun Club,
a bachelor party buffet of steel, plastic,
and ammo I couldn’t load on my own.
But the Russian AK-47 was easy,
its trigger like butter under a spoon,
little kick and no telegraph of pain
from shoulder to chest, nothing
but smoldering flakes of afterthought.
This exit is Củ Chi, Vietnam
where my father—flak jacket,
helmet, and bandaged foot
M16 aimed at satellites and God,
a squinted stand-off against a future
which never stood down, never granted
him a Memphis airport return
to The World or a highway drive
with me, shotgun, past this exit
where, forty years later, I learned
from a friend that dragonflies
carry the souls of our dead,
where I tossed out the window
any sympathy for my stepfather
who pinned my mother to the floor,
truck-driver hands around her neck,
where I confessed my sins
to a stray dog behind Tigermarket,
where I burned my father’s draft card
with the hunter’s safety card I never used,
where paper targets turned to flesh
and I waited for 9,000 souls
to return and tear down a billboard,
one gun at a time.
Chance Chambers is a former resident of Nashville who now lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his beautiful wife, Jennifer, and three cats: Albus, Oz, and Moon Pie. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Perfume River Poetry Review, Number One: A Literary Journal, Sobotka Literary Magazine, and the anthology Muscadine Lines: A Southern Anthology and Gathering: Writers of Williamson County.