By Meghan Privitello and Abbey Clements
In observance of the Sandy Hook memorial’s opening, we’re sharing poet Meghan Privitello’s “[When a child hears gunshots]” and Abbey Clements’s response essay from the anthology Bullets into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence. Clements was a second-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.
“[When a child hears gunshots]”
By Meghan Privitello
When a child hears gunshots,
she will say Mom is beating
the pots and pans. She will say
It sounds like home. Let’s keep it
this way; our children
misinterpreting the sound of dying
as a crude percussion.
When they kneel at their beds
and ask God where he was
when their best friend stopped
being alive he will say
I was at the drive-thru,
I was so hungry I thought the gunshots
were my stomach begging for food.
He will say I know nothing
until strangers tell me about it first,
I could have bullet wounds in my hands
and I’d know nothing about what hurts
and doesn’t hurt. What a God; making
the world out of variations of madness,
refusing to hold its face in his hands
and saying You, you are mine.
It is not ours: the young blood,
the unfinished drawings,
the last blurry thoughts before a world
goes black. When God is busy wiping grease
from his mouth, we can stand in a line
with the dead in our backpacks,
next to our pencils and our snacks;
he won’t notice when
we give the whole damned world back.
Response to “[When a child hears gunshots]” from Abbey Clements, Second-Grade Teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, and Gun Violence Prevention Activist
154 shots. They heard them all. I thought they were folding chairs falling. We huddled into the coats and backpacks. Some of them cried. Some of them laughed—how could they know? And if they knew, how could they believe? We shared a water bottle, a blue one, passing it around. Little arms poking out to take it. We waited. We had to believe the police were who they said they were. I opened the door. They scattered. A few in my outstretched arms. We ran. We were lucky. Surviving is a gift and a burden. What do you do with that?
For me, as soon as I could, I started to fight. I fight to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. I fight to keep guns locked up and away from curious toddlers and depressed teens. I fight against arming teachers, and I fight to keep guns out of college dorms and classrooms. Lockdowns, active-shooter drills, and backpacks that morph into shields aren’t the answer.
Parents shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not their kids will make it home from school. A year or two after the tragedy, one mom told me that every day after school she left a gift for her daughter sitting on her bed—a celebration for making it home.
About the Authors
Meghan Privitello is the author of A New Language for Falling Out of Love (YesYes Books, 2015). Poems have appeared in Boston Review, Gulf Coast, A Public Space, Best New Poets, Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a NJ State Council of the Arts Fellowship in Poetry.
Abbey Clements was a teacher at Sandy Hook from 2004 to 2015.