l i v i n g  w i t h  g u n s

 m a r i l y n  a  j o h n s o n 




A troop — almost medieval —

came tumbling into our town

to bring us Taming of the Shrew,

the shrew a big girl with cleavage

even the teachers joked about.

That wench is stark mad, or wonderful froward.

She stood in a disc of light

framed by rippling velvet

renown’d for her scalding tongue

in a small town that quit listening long before

her speech of submission, and

muttered filing out, That player liked the play too much.

Breasts trembling

alive and dangerous.



Hitch-hiking home, my boyfriend and I

stranded in Ravenna

six inches of new snow blurring its streets

only plows and strays out.

Skidding downhill

the drunk fingering Eric’s hair

we saw our chance at the light

left his doors to hang agape

the guy yelling Hey

git back here you girls!


Our luck: a Kent dorm unlocked

Thanksgiving week. We found the lounge,

made a bed of wet coats.

Now, what do you say if a guard comes?

Say, But this other guard told us we could.

Or fuck it, we’ll both play girls and cry.



After downtown shattered

and the ROTC building burned

the dolorous bell rang and

rang -- a knell for the worst,

which had past. The guards in gas masks

kept themselves busy

marched to the fence

knelt and aimed rifles

(full of blanks, one told Allison)

at the ridge where

those on the edge of the rally loitered and

flung rocks -- and the codebreaker,

the killer -- girls, in tangled hair and sheer

shirts, mouths twisted and shameless,

shook their slender fingers in the air

and screamed cocksucker, motherfucker

fuck your cocksucking, motherfucking war.

No longer women, no longer girls

the raunchiest of whores, maybe.

The enemy. Students

who needed to be taught a lesson.



Did Miss Long understand what she was hearing?

She did not. What? she said loudly.

We looked up. No sonnet could

compete with news, breaking.

The messenger whispered,

and our English teacher, lover of all

meanings, stacked and shimmering,

that words could bear, said, My God.

They’re killing their own children.



If the troublemaking students have no better sense...

throwing missiles, bottles and bullets

at legally constituted police authority

and the National Guard,

they justly deserve the consequences

they bring upon themselves,

even if this does unfortunately result in death.


It would have been a good thing

if all those students had been shot.

It would have been better

for the country

if you had all been mowed down.


Live ammunition! Well, really,

what did they expect, spitballs?



I dream you’re running toward me,

your hair a cape.

I lie on the sidewalk. What’s

leaking out of my breast?

You kneel, or your knees buckle.

O, your mouth says.

I see our lances are but straws

Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare...

Tell my lord and governor, thou hast tam’d a curst shrew

I pant for fifteen minutes.

They carry me offstage to die.


©2003 Marilyn A. Johnson


See also:
Living with Guns - An Introduction
The Fight for Kansas” - a family history by Mary-Sherman Willis.

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