Imaginary Shotguns

—Jordan Davis and many others

There’s a teenager in an SUV, shopping mall, or nightclub
with an imaginary shotgun. The weapon belongs to him,

but he doesn’t—he can’t—know it’s there. That’s one problem
with an imaginary shotgun: if one is unaware of its existence,

one might feel safe enough to forget about the possibilities,
to hope the night sky is glorious, and the birds

are really singing. It’s late and as the streetlights begin
to buzz, one might hear: You are safe. I said:

there’s a kid with an imaginary shotgun,
and the men who claim to see it will return with real guns.

Think of “belief” as a type of flag. You plant it in the soil
of some uncharted territory, and it tells everyone who you are.

Suddenly, there are dirt roads around the flag. Little houses.
Then a city. Flags soaring in the breeze. This country.

You’ve made a choice; you have staked this as your own.
There are many lies one can choose to believe.

Say it another way: The men who claim they saw a shotgun,
haven’t seen anything. They have planted a flag, and will give

nothing back. What, exactly, do they believe?
They believe that they will be believed.

Many times I have chosen to believe the good of all men,
Providence, the road from here and where it goes.

I have been terribly wrong.

Matthew Olzmann is the author of two collections of poems: Mezzanines (Alice James Books, 2013), and Contradictions in the Design which is forthcoming from Alice James Books in November, 2016. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in Kenyon Review, New England Review, Necessary Fiction, Brevity, Southern Review and elsewhere. Currently, he’s the 2015-16 Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.