Posted: April 16, 2010 in Poetry

Last night was the Oneness Poetry Showcase and what a GREAT show! The open mic was stacked with amazing talent like John Akpata, Poetic Speed, Ian Keteku, Loh El, Erin Felepchuk and more (me!).

Shauntay Grant’s set was fantastic. She is so talented and just has a presence on stage.

But it was Kevin Matthews that blew my brain. I have always been a fan, but it seems he is really moving on to a whole new level with his art.

CONTEXT: March, 2009

I wanted to write a poem about guns. It was going to show how destructive guns are to the wielder, not just the target.
I wanted to do a little research to get the technical aspects right. While doing the research I found a list of countries that utilize child soldiers.

Canada was on the list.

No before you argue that point, remember that they are probably using ‘child’ to mean ‘not an adult’, which means anyone under 19 in these parts. You can join the military at 17.

But while I was looking at that I remembered that I wanted to include a bit in the poem about going to the range with cadets when I was 13.

Suddenly this was a different poem than the one I had planned.

Note: This is definitely a case of the written poem not equalling the performed one. A lot of this piece is in the presentation instead of just the words.


The FNC1A1, with a folding
Rear sight and a 20-round
Capable of automatic fire or
Single shot.
Accuracy to a thousand meters.
A dependable weapon.
That’s what I was told
When I was handed one
At the age of 13.
I place the rifle carefully
On the firing mat
And lie beside it in the
Prone firing position.
The breach block locked into place
As I lift the weapon to my shoulder
And look down the sights at
The circular target down range.
I squeeze the trigger softly
And a puff of dirt appears
Behind the target.

It is a game
Like darts or shuffleboard
Check your accuracy
And compare your steady hand and keen eye
Against your friends.

It is a game
As far removed from its initial purpose
As javelin and shotput are from theirs.
It is a game.

I listen to a range safety officer
Give us our range safety speech.
“This weapone serves only one purpose.
It is designed to kill.
Show it respect and follow
All safety precautions or it will do
Just that.”

Kill? I’m not learning how to kill.
I’m just a kid who is a decent shot
At the range.
Look at the holes in my target.
They have a nice grouping.
The range officer says I have potential.

Designed to kill.

Each bullet is a 7.62mm agent of death
Streaking through the air
On to its intended target.
It is considered more humane
Than the smaller 5.56 size because
Of its destructive power.

Each bullet is graded on how much
‘Tissue disruption’ it can inflict
While tearing through muscle and organ
And shattering bone.

When I stepped onto my first range
And was handed a perfectly designed
Killing machine, at the age of 13
I wasn’t told this.
It was a game.
Target practice
Like darts or shuffleboard.
I checked my accuracy
And compared my shot groupings.

In Sudan or Somalia or Iraq
Guns are handed to children
With no illusions about their use.
They are to be fired, not at paper targets,
But at people, sometimes other children,
Whoever is designated as enemy.

But we don’t do that sort
Of thing here.
I was handed a semi-automatic rifle
At the age of 13.
What was I being trained for?

Another round slips into the breach.
I squeeze the trigger and a puff of dirt
Appears behind my paper target.

It is a game.
Like darts or shuffleboard.

“This weapone serves only one purpose.
It is designed to kill.
Show it respect and follow
All safety precautions or it will do
Just that.”

I decided to follow the best
Safety precaution I knew.
I cleared the chamber
And removed the magazine.
I palced the rifle on the firing pad,
Never to pick it up again.

Guns are not games.
Children are not soldiers.

If we want to find peace
In this world,
Let’s start with that.


Next is a piece about the joy I get out of what I do.

  1. thanks for the kind feedback, Rusty.
    moving to the next level is exactly what I’m trying to do. so I have to go out on a limb sometimes.
    It’s the love and support of people like you, and everyone in the house last night, that makes it possible for me to take the risks.
    Family is the people who are willing to watch you grow.

    thank you for being there.
    and props on the guns piece. I remember seeing it performed, and it comes straight from your heart. The best moments are those where the performance attitude and the content are in harmony like that. keep it up!

  2. nadinethornhill says:

    I remember hearing you perform this piece and you’re right. The delivery is everything.

    Guns are not games.
    Children are not soldiers.

    You drove those words right through me.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rusty Priske. Rusty Priske said: #rustythepoet FN https://rustythepoet.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/fn/ […]

  4. […] the second round I started second-guessing myself. I had planned to bring FN back after not doing it for a long time, but I noticed that that wasn’t the real […]

  5. […] the second round I did a toned-down version of FN and that went over a lot better. I ended up in second, I […]

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