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Cold Range, Hot Range

ISSUE:  Fall 2009

We’re at the Potts Mountain Shooting Range
on a hot day in March, blowing ammo,
hosing the shale. Submachine, .357,
Glock. And to pepper fine holes

in the paper target, an assault shotgun
that holds eight shells. It’s wild
as fire to play with fire. I like it.
Pressure thick in the gut, tremors

ear to marrow. Each cone of flame,
the burnt powder’s sweetness & stench.
Down the line a man sights in
a .50 caliber muzzleloader,

all smoke & ear protection. Cold range,
the .22 shooter shouts, questioning.
Cold range, we reply, and check again
the guy with the .308, the bald one

with the aught six, before heading
to gather, change targets, boots
crunching brass. It’s the velocity
I like, perfectly invisible & close,

more timeless than timelessness.
And the potency—almost innocent—
of one gentle finger squeeze.
And how each time the dust flies,

thirty rounds of nine mil out
the MP5, I’m amazed to be
breathing still. Out there I tell
my demons to dance. I don’t ask

for final words. This is serious.
Lucky, crazy. And maybe
some of us are aiming less
at the target’s inner circle,

strange whirlpool, than at the itch—
everywhere, nowhere—to hold the barrel
to the mouth’s gummy roof. If
suicide’s the only serious question,

as someone very serious once said,
what of murder, what of the bullet
worming red tunnels in flesh?
It’s not that I want to carry one,

though sometimes it seems silly not to,
it’s that I can’t ignore the gleam—
like birdsong—of light on the barrel,
and on my friend, taste it, her smile.


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