My brother and I learned to shoot
At summer camp.
That is where gunpowder
Became my favorite smell;
It had a tangy burned pungency
That hung in the air after each shot,
Better than Christmas.
After five or six shots
We would all run up
To inspect our targets
Even though our acute vision
Had already reported back our score.
With our guns
We were all rebel-princes,
Hooded heroes and highwaymen,
Plotting ways to defend the commoner
From our hideaway
In the king’s forest.
And then there was the boy
Who shot his whole family
In the same town as our camp.
They knocked down the house,
Bulldozed it flat and planted pine trees
Over the spot.
The name of the boy
And the family was never uttered again.
It was like they were whited out.
But the trees are still there
When we weren’t at camp,
We took our .22s to the sand pit
And shot at cans on boulders,
Rarely missing except on purpose
When we targeted the boulders
To hear the zing of ricocheting bullets.
One time, in the sand pit,
We spotted a big Hognose snake.
(Snakes grew bigger when I was little.)
We got a box over it and the mothers came.
They called the police
Who responded straight-away,
Told us all to stand back
And shot it through the head
Before we had a chance to grow up
And learn to read
And fall in love with snakes
And find out that Hognose snakes are harmless
Rat-eaters. But I still remember
The dusty bloody carcass of that big snake
Lying still in the sandy dirt
After it stopped writhing,
And feeling that the cop
Did the wrong thing
Even if the snake was, as he declared,
And the whole thing was very anti-climactic.
But the cop and the mothers
Had done their duty.
And I couldn’t wait to get back to
Which only lasted a few more years.