Sun Yung Shin
A BRIEF HISTORY OF GUNPOWDER
Sulphur. 硫. Charcoal. 木炭. Saltpeter. 硝. Like many men, ready to burn down
What can be burned. Sulphur,
Yellow as a cat eye, brimstone, burning stone, like an altar—
Naturally abundant, multivalent.
But common charcoal: for fools
Who wait for the mortality of fire. It’s dying down.
For the burnable—libraries, bodies—to be burned for good.
Memory. That crumbling space between the scorched & cindered,
That middle dwelling where fire is liquid gold
And heat arrives disguised
As sunlight. As exodus.
Whereas Saltpeter can force a mango tree to flower.
Imagine that, both the breath of God
And the breath of life in the monks’ accidental blackpowder,
Inside the chamber of the gun the correct terms are cartridge and projectile.
Did you know there’s no “bullet” until the gun is fired?
In the 9th century, Taoist monks in China were searching for an elixir of eternal life. Unintentionally, they invented gunpowder. Today, 8 billion rounds of ammunition are produced every year for the U.S. (non-military) market. In the U.S. there are more than 390 million guns, with the most guns per capita in the world, by far. That’s 120.5 guns for every 100 people.
“THE BEE NOISES WERE BULLETS FLYING BY”
The distinction between the wing-song of bees & the rush of incoming bullets
Might be narrow to the ear, slight as an enemy
Printed on a paper target. In outline, or solid black. Armed or unarmed.
An official NRA small-bore rifle double-bullseye board looks curiously
Like two tree rings, side by side, like brothers,
Cousins, companions, competition. A count-up
Left to right from 5 in the outer ring, then 6, these black letters on white,
And then white numbers on black rings
7, 8, 9, 10, and X in the center.
Two circular musical scores.
Mostly empty. New and unblemished.
A space for sound.
Flat like a field. A map to an inner room,
Room X, a room of unknowing.
4,000 species of bees are native
To North America, but not the iconic honeybee.
In 1622, white people and their colonies
Of Apis mellifera shipped ashore
With their honey, wax, queens,
And propolis. Their beasts of burden, and the animals they eat.
The people harbored the concealed
Immunities inside their blood.
They brought their blue-sky god
And their demi-god’s sacrifice—for their sins.
His thorny crown, the palm leaves
And ashes. The death-cross and resurrection.
They brought their seeds, saplings, and us—depending somehow
On the labor of bees and bullets, to this moment.
“I was shot in left foot when I was seventeen. At first I thought it was a bee sting because it sounded like bees flying by. 2 seconds later I realized something was wrong. The bee noises were bullets flying by.” –26 Gunshot Survivors Explain Exactly What The Bullet Felt Like, Thought Catalog, February 2017.
A SERIES OF PUNCTURES IN THE WORLD OF THE LIVING
The caretaker of punctures could be the Virgin Mary,
Thus, I petition her to sew what has been torn asunder,
To wield clean needle & thread, to lace up capillaries, corsets of fascia,
Embroider ruined rib bones back to whole. The human form already has enough hollows
And sightless abysses. Our Star of the Sea, Our Lady of Sorrows.
Θεοτόκος / Theotokos “God-bearer.” Abide these constellations, piercings.
We appeal to her untouchable maiden nature,
The New Eve that hungers for world, exiting not the flesh
Only one sweet green grove. A verdant custodian of wounds.
Black holes that engulf even the inexorable
Current of time and crush it into ghost.
Exorcisms on Manifest Destiny?
On violence, drinking, wrath, and despair? How potent is her spell-craft?
Will she secret away the bullets, padlock the gun, bury the key?
Render our pistols and rifles deathless? Our Queen of the Impossible?
Figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show there were a total of more than 38,300 deaths from guns in 2019 - of which more than 23,900 were suicides. –BBC News, “America's gun culture in charts,” 8 April 2021.