Image: detail of "After the Execution (Après l'exécution)," cover of Le Mot, vol. 1, no. 5, January 9, 1915, by Paul Iribe. From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


in the beginning there was a beginning & before that it’d already begun & before that
a gun

every story i love begins with violence. every story ends.

a life undone as a button slid through the winged gap in its fabric. little portal opening
into light into a bald chest bared as a fang

the etymology of gun is wonderment from the dutch

from my uncle’s locked cabinet he shot out over the city of los angeles laughing
to impress as i sassed lavish in my black jeans

the etymology of gun is hunger
from the french

from the waistband of a strange man’s madness as he traced my outline down
an unlit louisville street.
from the greek

fired from a passing car through my neighbor’s window entering his brain & refusing
to leave
from the old english
a man enters an orlando nightclub breathes

the etymology of gun is police is greed is country from the german
from the sea

almost gossip outside my barred window almost the falling sound of metal leaves

from the old country my mother’s hometown where the gun store on the corner’s
the only business not out of business

from the new country where a weapon can be shipped to your doorstep next day

the etymology of gun is tied to horses from the old norse

a woman’s proper name made from two words for battle

i held a gun only once. my lover begged me to press it against the back of his head
as we fucked. his pistol fit so easy in my hand when i pulled the trigger, my god,

the sound it made swallowed me

click click click click [click].

sam sax

sam sax is the author of Madness (Penguin, 2017), winner of the National Poetry Series; and bury it (Wesleyan University Press, 2018), winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. He’s received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Lambda Literary, & the MacDowell Colony. He’s the two-time Bay Area Grand Slam Champion; author of four chapbooks; and winner of the Gulf Coast Prize, the Iowa Review Award, and the American Literary Award. His poems have appeared in BuzzFeed, The Nation, The New York Times, Poetry Magazine, Tin House, and other journals. He’s the poetry editor at BOAAT Press.