loose strife

Amy Quan Barry

Embarassingly it was just outside the tunnels.
One American dollar bought you one bullet.
Consequently I did it because I could.
A few hundred miles west in Cambodia
rumors that $100 could buy you a single shot
with a rocket launcher and a cow. In all my days
I have never met anyone who’s done it or seen it done.
The animal’s essence geysering up into the blue.
Muse, help me to understand why I paid the money
and laid down in the dust, the thing pressed
against my shoulder. What wrath compelled me.
What narrative. “Barry, who was born in Vietnam
but raised in America, provides what is definitely
a Western point of view. From her perspective,
violence is a shocking misfortune that remains foreign,
beyond her personal borders.” Yes. That other time
the way I balled it all up and left it behind in Guayaquil
after we were robbed at gunpoint on a deserted road
in the national park, the local police stroking our faces
and telling us in Spanish that we were lucky
and how, as it was happening, a light went on
and I realized I had the capacity to die,
that capacity was the right word,
that it was a power, an aptitude, an ability
which I possessed, a potential, and I wondered
how others do it right here at home,
how the worst thing in the world happens to people
right in their own living rooms, on the street
where they live, at the movie theater, the grocery store,
at the rally to meet their congresswoman
or the place where they worship their loving god
and for those who don’t die, for those in whom
the capacity remains unfulfilled, the gunman’s
thousand rounds somehow missing them,
how they keep going day in and day out,
how they ever feel safe despite the public’s reluctance
to do anything to keep it from happening again,
someone taking up a gun in the place where you sleep,
where you love, the place where you educate your
the spot from which you can’t fly out
like Andrée and I did, back to Miami and then onward,
handing over your passport and saying please,
just let me go.