Squeeze/ Joshua Stewart


There’re cuckoo clocks in every room of my mother’s house.

None of them tell the right time, each one’s a fake. Latch

and hinge—you’d find a loaded pistol by opening each face.


There’re two rifle cabinets in every bedroom, a dozen

shotguns draped in confederate flags behind beveled glass.

There’s an AK stashed inside a hollow wall.


Don’t tell ya ma what I showed ya inside that wall,

my stepdad said as we crept from her sewing room. House

an arsenal. Fortify yourself. Stay away from the windows.


It’s said that Grandpa killed a game warden with a bolt

action while poaching in Kentucky hills.

                                               I was twelve

when my brother pointed a snub-nosed .38 in my face.


Uncle Bob claims there’re bones down in a dry well. Facing

a fine for bagging an illegal deer, or maybe even a day in jail

were things Granddad wasn’t going to consider.

                                                                   It’s midnight.


Someone pounds on my best friend’s front door.

Someone pleads for help, hammers like Thor. My friend unlatches

the chain to see a man with three missing fingers, his glasses


blood-speckled. The man and Mr. Cobb were fighting over a tall glass

named Wanda. Mr. Cobb pointed a shotgun to his head,

and instinctively, he yanked the barrel down as Mr. Cobb unlocked


the safety, pulled the trigger.

                            My brother stood me against the wall,

outstretched the revolver, click. We were always alone in that house.

                Paramedics gurnied the man to the ambulance. Police located the twelve


gauge, and would find Mr. Cobb days later in the freight yard, hiding in a pair of boxcars.

               Mom keeps a derringer on her nightstand next to her water glass.

                                  A porchlight is what drew the man to my friend’s house.


Grandpa dug the game warden’s false teeth right out of his face,

buried them in his dresser near the painting of Jesus on the wall.

As latchkey kids, the first thing we learned how to do was unlock


every gun case in our mother’s closet. My brother could pick any lock.

The first time I fired a .22 I missed the empty beer can by a foot.

The second time I shot a .22 I plugged a hole in my bedroom wall.


A neighbor called the police because I blasted out his garage windows.

      Here’s a picture of me at four-years-old with two toy six-shooters

                      and in my best Jesse James guise.  

My brother cocked back the hammer, I could do it in a cinch.


How easy it is to face someone and pop off a dozen

rounds when you garner hate behind glass, fear hidden in walls,

when constructing barriers is more important than building homes.


joshuastewartJoshua Michael Stewart has had poems published in the Massachusetts Review, Gertrude, Louisville Review, Rattle, Night Train, Evansville Review, Cold Mountain Review, and many others. His first full-length collection of poems, Break Every String, was published by Hedgerow Books in 2016. Find him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter @JoshuaMStewart.

Author photo by Trish Crapo.


Header Image: Creative Commons, Public Domain.

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