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Final Poem for the Bullet

by Phillip B. Williams

When the bullets overhead ricocheted
off the metal fence and junk cars grave-
stoning the junkyard, and when my uncle

shouted for me and my friend to duck
beneath the torrent of lead ziplining
the air from an unseen source,

and when screams scratched throats keenly
till echoing the bullet din approaching no target
with aim or intention precise enough to reach

anyone but the innocent, and when my legs
refused to unfold from beneath me to follow
friend and uncle through the gangway

of a neighbor’s house until being alone
was more frightening than hot shells
finding all the ways to enter, and when

my brutal desire to live lead me to safety
acquired in an alley where rat corpses perfumed
away gun smoke of which I’d grown nostalgic,

and when laughter broke from our lungs
as if surviving didn’t mean tomorrow’s fury
could second chance us toward alternative deaths,

and when I look back within myself at the pleasure
fear made possible, and when my ten-year-old breeziness
degraded to damn, we alive and the piss-sprayed,

Colt 45, crackpipe-laden alley corroborated
by echoing my voice with the climate of what tried
to kill us—the weather itself cracking its neck

into thunder until an hour’s dismantling
manifested a system of continuous reckoning
with the possibilities of every broken bottle

mirroring my prostration’s erotics. And if when
I think back to that alley leading to an empty
lot where a house of addictions once laughed

from glassless windows, if I render this re-
memory to reclaim that bullet-lost child, and if
I find him glistening like a just-born species,

wearing the eyes of my mother and the lips
of my father, holding a sword in one hand
and a scale in the other, counting backwards

from ten, as when in the lips of a nightmare
the nightmare’s attendee suspects zero’s nothing
brings back the world the nightmare fed from,

as if at the end of the end was a lesson,
as if at the end of the end was a form?

Phillip B. Williams was born in Chicago, Illinois, and is author of the poetry collection Thief in the Interior, winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and Lambda Literary Award. He is a recipient of a 2017 Whiting Award and 2020 Radcliffe Fellowship. Williams currently teaches at Bennington College.