August 3, 2016

LGBTQ Poets Respond to the Pulse Nightclub Shooting

Zachariah Spurrier

In Response to the Storm

1. "That could have been us." I text a friend. 2. I wake up from 4 hours of sleep to groggily read a CNN notification updating me of a shooting in Orlando. Not another one, I think, and I go back to sleep. 3. 49 people are dead and 53 people are injured, and already this has been identified as the largest mass shooting in US history. 4. I am too tired and too busy and too caught up in my life without a bullet though my brain, too obsessive with my own reliable breathing, too entertained by comments from friends about the hot weather, too lustily transfixed on the certainty that I will experience the day after tomorrow. I tell myself that when I get home, in my air conditioned house, in my sunlit bedroom, under blankets I've grown up with, on top of pillows I’ve known my whole life, then, when I've de-stressed and decompressed, I'll mourn the victims. And I'll mourn them for a proper amount of time, just enough to purify my intentions, but not too long, lest I do anything or feel anything past sharing posts on Facebook. 5. How are we still on our feet? How are our faces dry? 6. A different friend reminds me of the pets. I add to my mourning list at least 49 more names of cats and dogs suddenly homeless, friendless, and free. I wonder if they glorify freedom as much as Americans do. I wonder how many dogs do not eat. I wonder how many times a cat cries out before she realizes no one is coming back. 7. He was mentally ill. 8. He was a Muslim. 9. He was a domestic terrorist. 10. He was an Islamic terrorist. 11. He was a homophobe. 12. He was gay. 13. He was a lone gunman. 14. He was a regular at the club. 15. I watch the news, but I do not find facts. 16. He was on an FBI watchlist and he bought an assault rifle and he murdered 49 people dancing in their own sanctuary and the moment the world thought it was safe he assured us it wasn't. 17. Church friends share a post blaming a Godless world for the atrocity in an Orlando gay club. 18. I laugh at this — though I think it's only because I'm trying not to cry. The post manages to politicize 49 deaths and so many injuries, to blame the sinning members of the crime — both victim and executor, to capitalize on fear and the façade of fearlessness, to advocate against stricter gun control, and to sensualize genocide and propaganda with bold font, bolder promises, harsh language, no nonsense fortitude, and the 2nd amendment. 19. My mother shares this post. 20. I try my best to avoid social media, but ultimately I am unsuccessful. 21. One video of text messages to and from the recently deceased. 22. One video of a survivor telling a story that ends in death. 23. One video of Jimmy Fallon taking a minute and fifty-six seconds to speak, to send condolences, to grieve, and to plea to Americans for strength, generosity, and love. 24. I do not watch any of these fully. 25. One reporter swears allegiance to a presidential candidate who promises to eliminate Muslims from America. 26. Another reporter has a breakdown on live television. 27. A local reporter provides the most recent details on the shooting and then gleefully jumps into the sports section of the program. By the end I almost forget about the 15 second breaking news portion that began my evening. 28. I hear the words "Sodom and Gomorrah" too often. 29. And I wonder if there was anyone left to mourn those cities. I imagine there were men, women, and children who cried into the salt arms of their parents and grandparents. I imagine tears dissolving the sinners one by one until the cities became seas. 30. Of the 49 I knew none of them. I have not researched a single name. 31. Knowing them scares me. 32. I'm waiting for my mother or my father or my sister to talk about the shooting. I am tense when the evening news flashes up on the television. For a moment I imagine the conversation I'll have, the indifference I might be able to fake. They never mention it though. They don't know to think, "that could have been my son." 33. Another post on Facebook: "The problem is not guns!…" 34. Maybe he didn't kill 49 strangers simply because he had a gun. Planes, bombs, knives, chemicals, and crosses have all been used to execute. Without a gun, without an assault rifle, in a loud crowded club, maybe fewer people would have been ripped out of the world. Fifty could have been forty, thirty, twenty people stabbed or poisoned. Could only twenty people have absorbed the explosion of some homemade device? If in this world we must live off of murder and oppression, hate and violence, monstrosities and atrocities, maybe we can lessen the pain for grieving mothers and fathers. Maybe we can lose fewer artists and musicians and engineers and scientists and designers and pet owners and god parents and servants of God and servants of Allah. Maybe we can be Orlando for fewer lost lives. Maybe we can hold vigils for only ten lives tragically lost to a lone man armed with a knife. Maybe, if for only a moment we consider the one or two or ten or twenty lives we might be able to save, if we consider saving one son and one granddaughter who is senselessly shot, if we consider how many more times we must go through the Facebook posting grieving period, maybe the prideful protection of your family with your handgun (which you will never use) is a lesser priority. 35. "…It's hearts without God…" 36. And hearts without Allah. The same God your neighbors and teachers and coworkers and doctors, your friends or friends of friends, your perfectly peaceful, proper and professional, polite strangers you pass on the street. One is headed to a church, and one is headed to a mosque and for 2 hours you will both get down on your knees and pray to an omnipotent god somewhere outside the universe, you will both pray for peace and grace, for justice and liberty and safety, you will both cry and cry out and embrace your children, you will both mourn the world they must grow up in, you will both ask for a heavenly blessing. Later you will both go home and practice patience and love toward those who radicalize your religion. 37. "…homes without discipline…" 38. His parents have agreed that their son's actions were an act of terror. 39. "…schools without prayer and…" 40. Prayer to whom? Allah? God? Zeus? The ball of fire and the ball of rock we see day and night? What about Columbine? Sandy Hook? Virginia Tech? Surely we've been praying in our homes since then. 41. "…courts without justice." 42. The same courts that have just recently begun passing legislation for equality. The same courts that allow the people inside Pulse to live the same life as those who have always been privileged to equality. The same courts finally able to tell these communities that they don't have to be afraid to go outside. They are free to be themselves, to live, to be ambitious, to want something more, to go dream-searching, and to find the hidden treasure in America. The same courts, passing laws and passing freedom and passing safety. And in search for some sanctuary of acceptance, 49 people found themselves at the end of an assault rifle, unsure if the historic freedoms they recently received included history-making mass shootings. 43. I will step out into freedom in a few years. 44. "That could have been us" 45. Anywhere 46. Anyhow 47. Any number of us 48. For any reason 49. I fear.

"I think that I'll be writing about the tragedy at Pulse Nightclub for a while. I will never get those words right. No repurposed punctuation can revive the dead nor remedy the ache that has taken root in my stomach. I'm Zachariah Spurrier, a West Virginia native, and rising sophomore at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I won RPI's McKinney Writing Contest in Poetry, and those poems are published in the school's satirical magazine Statler & Waldorf. When I'm not studying Biochemistry & Biophysics, I'm writing creative nonfiction and poetry, just trying to put together the right words."

Glass: A Journal of Poetry is published weekly by Glass Poetry Press. All contents © the author.