THE GUN JOKE

by Jamaal May

It’s funny, she says, how many people are shocked
by this shooting and the next and next and the next.
She doesn’t mean funny as in funny, but funny
as in blood soup tastes funny when you stir in soil.
Stop me if you haven’t heard this one:
A young man/old man/teenage boy walks into
an office/theater/daycare/club and empties
a magazine into a crowd of strangers/family/students.

Ever hear the one about the shotgun? What do you call it
when a shotgun tests a liquor store’s bulletproof glass?
What’s the difference between a teenager
with hands in the air and a paper target charging at a cop?
What do you call it when a man sets his own house on fire,
takes up a sniper position, and waits for firefighters?

Stop me if you haven’t heard this one:
The first man to pull a gun on me said it was only a joke,
but never so much as smiled. The second said
this is definitely not a joke, and then his laughter crackled
through me like electrostatic—funny how that works.
When she says it’s funny she means funny
as in crazy and crazy as in this shouldn’t happen.
This shouldn’t happen as in something is off. Funny as in
off—as in, ever since a small caliber bullet chipped his spine,
your small friend walks kinda’ funny and his smile is off.

Originally published By Indiana Review (winner of the 2013 IR Prize)

 

Forward-Face

JAMAAL MAY was born in 1982 in Detroit, MI where he taught poetry in public schools and  worked as a freelance audio engineer. His first book is Hum (Alice James Books), which received the American Library Association’s Notable Book Award, Foreword Review’s Book of the Year Silver Medal, and an NAACP Image Award nomination. In 2014 Jamaal received several awards and honors including the Spirit of Detroit Award, the Robert Frost Fellowship to Bread Loaf Writers Conference, The J. Howard and Barbara M. J. Wood Prize from Poetry, and a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship in Italy. Poems appear widely in magazines and have been anthologized in Please Excuse this Poem: 100 Poems for the Next Generation (Penguin), 2015 Pushcart Prize Anthology (Pushcart Press), Best American Poetry 2014 (Scribner), and elsewhere. Jamaal is a Kenyon Review Fellow and co-directs Organic Weapon Arts with Tarfia Faizullah.