When stout voices mutter

“Bayonets, bayonets,”

Narrower folk tremble.

A bullet, at least, kills

From a distance and makes

A clean penetration

In breast or skull, but

Bayonets will be close,

Next to next, like sex, thrust

In and twisted can disgorge

More guts and blood than

Anyone thought he contained.

This evening, the growl-snarl

Is “bayonets, bayonets,”

In the church sub-basement.

Eager to attack, sinews hard

After years of toughening,

They slip the long slim knives

Over the ends of their rifles,

Which they grip, sure, truth

Tightening, ready to go –

In which direction? Go where?

Karl Patten

From Touch: Poems

Commentary:  This poem was written several years ago when there was much talk – and evidence – of private militias of members of the radical right wing.   In fact, I interviewed at least one man who belonged to the Aryan Nation in the Lewisburg Penitentiary, and there were others there.   Now, apparently some members of the so-called “tea party” have similar ideas, e.g. nine men in Michigan who have been arrested for allegedly intending to kill policemen.  There is certainly much talk.

I decided to imagine such a group in our town here in the provinces where, unfortunately, “guns, guts and God” have a presence.  A church sub-basement seemed to be the correct habitat and the attitude a tough sense of “truth.” But the poem is optimistic, for I suspect such people are really confused, unsure of just what they want to do.  The form I chose, short, tight lines, seemed appropriate.


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