Negative Space

by Sara Kaplan-Cunningham

I’ve fired a gun only once:
With my father in Maine.
The instructor was a hairy uncle-man,
Walked like he was being filmed
For a commercial advocating our Second Amendment
Rights. One hand on his holster, the other thumbing
His jawline. Safety was important to him,
He said. So, when I hit the target and swiveled
To see my father’s eyes, the gun still aloft,
I felt not the melting sensation of pride swallow
My lower intestine, but the bear-like warmth
Of the instructor’s hands, throwing me to the ground
As easily as a discarded tunic
Before lovemaking.

There was shame, yes; there was also
Sinking. No one saw me
Beneath the snow-covered tarmac. Under
The hibernating painted trilliums, scraped at their centers.
I’ve pictured the thwarted gunshot thousands of times.
In my father’s abdomen. His thigh. His head.
I’ve kayaked through it in my dreams, dipped my fingers
In his warrior blood, no life jacket. The wound
An open mouth. His body’s negative space has a distinct odor:
Diesel fumes, fermented strawberries, something
Like crawling along a dirt path. Ghostly
Scratches along my skin. Me, praying
This sharpness isn’t living.

Sara Kaplan-Cunningham’s poems appear or will appear in SOFTBLOW, The Sea Letter, Prometheus Dreaming, and elsewhere. She is a senior at Emory University studying English and Creative Writing. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.