Brian Clements is the author, most recently, of A Book of Common Rituals. He lives in Newtown, CT, where his wife, a teacher, survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

On “22”

Many Americans, especially those who grow up in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, as I did, are used to seeing and using guns—hunting, target shooting, skeet, and just going out to shoot are part of American culture. But we’re also used to hearing about gun incidents—negligent gun handling by a friend of a friend, a cousin in a hunting accident, a guy around the corner dropping his pistol—that result in injuries in death. We’ve become conditioned in our culture to just write off those incidents as part of life. But because we do chalk those incidents up to the norm, we enable the abnormal—domestic violence leading to shots fired, someone with anger issues going off at work, the more and more frequent mass shootings, which inevitably catch wide attention for a few days and then are forgotten. We can’t afford to keep doing this; if we don’t take small gun problems seriously, they will always lead to big gun problems. This poem reflects back over some incidents with guns in my own life (though not all of them); if we all wait until a tragedy like Sandy Hook happens in our own home towns before we take action, then we aren’t far from the time where everyone actually will have had these incidents in their home towns, perhaps involving their own loved ones.


Alexandra Teague is the author of two books of poetry—Mortal Geography, winner of the California Book Award for Poetry, and The Wise and Foolish Builders.


Dean Rader is the author of two books of poetry, most recently Self-Portrait as Wikipedia Entry, and editor of 99 Poems for the 99 Percent: An Anthology of Poetry.