Revisiting Virginia Tech

By Lisa Norris

I can’t look at the markers on the field
for the slain who were shot,
and last night’s production

of Lear, when good Gloucester’s eyes
were removed, is in
my brain on continuous loop:

once, I was happy here, wasn’t I?
I grew tomatoes, raised children
and taught people who went on

to write good stories and one
who ended them with his Glock.
I thought the history of terrible things far

in the past–or novelty acted
on the stage. I was young,
but some of the young—Cordelia, Edgar—

know that’s wrong. Was I
blind to what moved through
my neighborhood—that one plotting

harm? Did I, like Lear,
teach my mind to occupy itself
with small complaints: how

I wasn’t praised enough, even as
that betrayer held his tongue
in my office, knee to knee

with me when I tutored him?
He earned my pity, refusing
invitations to speak until

he wrote his story in so much
blood (that cliché—
until it’s not, until it’s real

because it truly did spill
under desk tops, down
stairwells, marking the walls),

it would pull me to the brink
like blinded Gloucester,
who begged Poor Tom

to lead him to the cliff
so he could jump off.
I won’t follow that act,

nor Lear into madness:
there’s too much
answering to do—

my voice wants to meet
the panicked dial
of people under

desks where some hid
in poses of death, hoping
for a voice on the other end.

Those young stalks
folded, some exploded
by the gun of the one

with whom I’d sat. He’d shaded
his eyes with that cap,
and I couldn’t hear

what the actor didn’t say–the plot
thickening later. If
I could have shot him, then—

what?
++++++++32 still living.

I want that–but not to hold
the gun. Instead let me make the seeing blind
into the blind seeing. Can I write

a different ending? I can’t
fully live without trusting the young,
but I don’t know what message
the answering voice will convey.

About the Author

Lisa Norris has published two prize-winning story collections, Women Who Sleep With Animals (Stephen F. Austin University Press Prize, 2011) and Toy Guns (Helicon Nine Press, 2000), as well as a poetry chapbook called The Gap (D Press, 2017). Her stories, poems and creative nonfiction have been published in various literary journals—most recently Terrain.Org and Ascent. She taught as a full-time instructor at Virginia Tech between 1991 and 2007. She is now a professor at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA, where she has taught since Fall 2007.


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