by Sean Madden
The kid at Coyote Pond, six, maybe seven, a ruffled
head of hair, a neighborhood boy whose name
I once learned–he’s making me nervous, nervous
in a way I feel sheepish about, a way that’s borderline
irrational, the way he’s bouncing around the playground,
firing cap guns, shooting things only he can see.
He and my son, a toddler not yet three, are the only two
children at the park, and lucky us, the boy wants to talk.
He bounces over to show off his pistols, proudly naming
the parts, and I feign a bit of interest before ushering
my son toward the swings. Go away.
The boy, too young to take the hint, asks his dad if
my son can play guns, too. The dad, aloof, on his phone,
tells the son to clear it with me. When the boy follows
suit, I say no, nicely, that my son is too little;
he prefers the ladders, the slides.
The boy shrugs off, resumes his play, and I should feel
better; it’s all pretend as it is, just relax, what could happen,
I’m not an alarmist by nature, never have been; I should
feel hopeful now that a text from my wife has confirmed
the return of cranes to Ireland after centuries abroad–
Yeats would have given thanks–but my American
nerves can’t be irrational when our ceremony of
innocence drowned with Newtown, when there’s
nothing pretend about notebooks inked in anger,
trunks of ammunition in a high-rise hotel room,
crosshairs on Bible study. Anytime, everywhere,
pustules burst in madmen’s heads; boobytrapped black
sedans idle behind movie theaters; the boy next door
slouches into view to let his beast off its leash.
Sean Madden holds an MFA from the University of Kentucky. His stories, essays, and poems have appeared in The John Updike Review, The Los Angeles Review, The Nonconformist, Slant, CAROUSEL, Waccamaw, Small Print, and Dappled Things. He lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills with his wife and sons.