Poems for Las Vegas | Updated

Kitsap Weekly asked area poets to write some words that might provide some comfort or help readers process the tragedy and horror of the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas.

One poet, Diane Walker, wrote a couplet and a haiku, adding, “But really, there are no words for the ache in our hearts.”

There was something poetic about Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest statement about the mass shooting; we took the liberty of presenting a portion of it here as free verse.


A couplet
What choice have we, when dealing with such horror and such grief,
but to insist that we take steps to end this slaughter?


A haiku
Echoes of gunshots
shimmer above the desert;
warblers fall silent.

* * *


In the Ambulance
She lies in deep grass
under a tree of yellow cherries
sweet air of hibiscus
makes her sleepy

a canopy of faces
red lights paint the sky
her heart stops

a stranger leans in
lips sweet and hopeful
as yellow cherries


When the world is spinning, I remember
these are my loves: red wine,
orange cats, the smell of clove cigarettes,
Leonard Cohen’s gravelly voice,
words like sibilate and firefly and lovely and valium,
rain like pebbles on my sunroom roof,
or hail the size of Easter eggs, church bells in the morning,
cradling my guitar like a tired friend,
leaning into corners on my motorcycle,
an unquenchable thirst for love and laughter,
a hunger that isn’t hunger but a life
reaching back for itself, singing too loudly,
swimming in the ocean,
warm water like lips sliding over my skin,
the water in me searching for the water not in me,
my body like sand consuming the tides.

* * *


Message from Las Vegas
They rained from the sky
no address … . .
mixed messages
from a mixed mind.

Second Amendment
opened the door
insanity stepped through
held bodies in its hand.

Now our Nation cries out
for the innocent,
the broken hearts,
The Future … …

* * *


It doesn’t stay there
Scarlet pillows

like a stain
Our great stain
nothing removes

Lady MacBeth
has nothing on us

An answer?
Any answer?
Acceptance of pain
and suffering.

Wherever it happens …
it doesn’t stay there.

* * *


Def. An external effect, often unforeseen and unintended, accompanying a process or activity

Who knows the reason that Fred got a gun,
was it protection or was it for fun?
He did not foresee, I will hazard a guess,
he’d snap in that moment of marital stress.

Gun in the cupboard but key in the door,
three-year-old Alice and five-year-old Shaw,
drawing and carefully taking his aim,
playing, pretending — it’s only a game.

Three people slain when a man runs amok,
muscular Christian Conservative stock,
blowing through clinic and shooting at will,
deriding abortion and panning the pill.

Fourteen more killed in the west of L.A.
and yet we will read in the paper today
“guns do not kill” (it’s recited by rote)—
kindly remember whenever you vote.

Fifty nine more now in Vegas and yet
NRA lackies in Washington fret;
surely, they say, we dishonor this toll

should we even mention gun rights and control.

But ten-year-old Jason, Chicago south side,
nobody asked him how he would decide
and nobody will now, for what it is worth —
shot in the street in a tussle for turf.


Happiness, liberty, life, are to be
sacrosanct only to lesser degree,
quite disregarded by setting our sights
on never constraining gun-ownership rights.

* * *


A gamble of red
Spilled spirits soaring
Opposite of the bet

* * *


Once again, we are mourning the
violent loss of innocent lives
to a man who had access to
weapons no civilian should
have access to.

It’s impossible to know how to stop
every act of gun violence,
but I know with my whole being
that our nation’s leaders aren’t even trying.

* * *


When is a water droplet home?
When is a water droplet home?

Pelting its beads onto agave’s broad leaves
to drip deep into aquifer, to acequia, to ocean
each drop a ballet battement across shallow ponds,
to rise en pointe before settling;

or is a water droplet home
rising in the desert sun, called to hazy blue sky,
cirrus, cumulus, cumulonimbus,
those giant flat-bottomed thunderheads?

Where does a soul find home
when bullets rain down into a neon ocean
of people, once clapping, swaying waves of music —
and now lying flat, trembling, a turbulent sea
as bullets ping across the seats, ricochet through the terror.

Where does a soul find home?
—In the restless aftermath
souls rise above the screams
leave long black bags of hurt and anger
for loved ones and survivors to carry.

Souls gather in thin wisps
as we pick up prickly shards,
as we begin to heal this desert home.

* * *


Jenny Parks, Kindergarten Teacher
in memoriam
What were her words before the bullets
entered her the way Hitler entered
Prague and bled the city dry?
In mid-song, between the drums and gunshots

and the singer’s voice that twanged
like a flanged guitar in the Vegas night,
what were the last words that Jenny spoke?
Were they a fragment or complete sentence

and did her verb soothe like a smile
one that would urge kindergartners
to sit up, fold their hands into steeples,
open and watch all the people?

Please tell me. I am the substitute.
She left no lesson plans.
Her students are waiting
for the announcements

and the morning sing-along. Please tell me.
Ms. Parks will not be at school today.
Or tomorrow. Students will want me
to tell them what she said.

And how do I create a Jenny voice,
one that rattled and laughed
like rain on an aluminum roof?

* * *


Ten Numbers
3,500,000 – 3668 – 1126 – 500 – 59 – 30 – 23 – 21 – 3.5 – 3 –1

3,500,000 — the amount of money donated by the NRA to current members of Congress *

3668 — the number of a bill in the House of Representatives that would reduce restrictions on silencers
and armor piercing ammunition**

1226 — the number of miles from Las Vegas to Bainbridge Island, a distance shattered by the pain of one

500 — the number people (roughly) who were injured in the Las Vegas shooting****

30 – the number of people (at least) said to have been guided to safety by a man who was shot in the neck
while helping them*****

23 — the number of guns the shooter in Las Vegas had with him ******

21 — the number of years since Congress cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control by the amount
spent on researching gun violence as a public health issue *******

3.5 — the percentage by which the price of gun manufacturer Sturn Ruger’s stock rose one day after the
Las Vegas shooting ********

3 — the number of hours some people waited in line in Las Vegas to donate blood *********

1 — the percentage of people with serious mental illness who have perpetrated gun violence against

This simply does not compute.

* – Washington Post 10/2/17, ** – Congress.gov, *** – Googlemaps **** – NBCnews.com, 10/2/17, ***** – metro.co.uk 2017/10/03, ****** – NBCnews.com, 10/2/17, ******* – LA Times, 6/14/16, ******** – USA Today, 10/2/17, ********* – NY Times.com, 10/2/17, ********** – Washington Post, 5/18/16

* * *


What We Will Tell Our Children
Sometimes the grandmother is not a grandmother but a wolf.
Sometimes the woodsman comes too late.

Sometimes the wolf’s hunger is so great,
he eats his own heart, eats until he is nothing

but teeth and snap and rip. Sometimes
fur, bushy tail and an open-mouth smile means pup,

sometimes it doesn’t,
and you know what can happen.
We can’t protect you.

Usually the woodsman comes in time.
Usually the wolf passes the house.

* * *


Think of a face you love
trace its lineaments in your mind,
the arch of her cheek,
the curve of his brow,
how the lips part for a smile,
purse for a kiss.

Recall the feelings you’ve seen
play across the face you love:
times of surprise,
moments of pain,
instances of love —
looks given in love to you.
Your face was loved then.
The face you face daily,
its wrinkles and worries,
all the imperfections
you’ve catalogued,
was loved as it was,
loved for the you within it,
blessed by that face you love.

Remember when you saw the chin
of that face you love
on a stranger in a crowd?
So similar it surprised you,
brought that face you love to mind,
how the hair or eye
is shared in other faces,
the lineaments you’ve loved
common to many,
arranged so variously,
each face like others
yet uniquely itself,
whole, and blessed.

For each face you see
has been loved
as you’ve been loved,
as you love
that face you love —

* * *


The world didn’t seem to stop to me.
Even as my mother blared CNN from our living room on the second of October,
I couldn’t feel feelings for hours.
Nothing but numbness, while hours before hundreds felt
Confusion and fear.

The world stopped turning for them.
For the mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters.
It was a bang,
Cut off by screams of concert goers
That were heard throughout the streets of Sin City that night.

The world continued that morning.
It was with silence
That consumes everything.
Numb and still,
My world continued to turn.

* * *


The ghost man of Mandalay

On a mission of fun my daughter and her husband checked in.
On a mission of death the ghost man checked in on the very same day.

On Floor 33 my daughter and her husband went to their room.
Just below on Floor 32 the ghost man entered his room.

On Floor 33 my daughter and her husband peered out the window.
They saw a festival of happy people.
On Floor 32 the ghost man peered out with the very same view.
He saw a gathering of targets.

At 5 p.m. on that awful day my daughter and her husband left for the airport.
At 5 p.m. on that awful day the ghost man stayed to do what he meant to do.

My daughter and her husband came home.
The ghost man didn’t go home,
And neither did so very many.


* * *


Fates are shuffling
like a deck of cards
in a child’s hands

Unlit matches
stacked up against
gasoline cans

* * *


No Going Back
The radiance
of the harvest moon
is harsh
on our anguish
and there is no going back now
yet I want to turn
to earlier
before this full moon
before the tragedy
to change the rules
the program
and layout
the broken window
to sit a while
watch the waxing moon
grow fatter
engage with the shooter
and to chat
not chat
to listen
and then
listen some more
Would I have heard?

* * *


Joker’s Court
Shots ring out, nowhere to hide
inside music turned to madness, harmony
to dissonance.

If I were crazy, I could assume the ensuing
talk in Congress of silencers
to enhance a gunman’s experience
was fake,

a parody of government, macabre
humour that bites the heart, so close to
truth, but luckily

And yet, the Joker’s Court here, unlike
Alice in Wonderland, is now real, and
I am not yet crazy.

* * *


That afternoon the war ended

we picked every green tomato in the garden,
dipped them in flour,
fried them for supper,
and nobody
argued over the dishes.

Hours we ran through the sprinkler
leaping like salmon to its wet circular hiss,
shooting each other over and over with the hose,
flopping on the grass, gasping,
air heavy with Mother’s peonies.

It was any summer night.
There the big dipper hung.
Up on the porch, dozens of papery moths
blundered against the light
and fell with no sound.