By CARRIE ETTER.
Columbine High School, Colorado, 20 April 1999
Who knew that a teenage boy’s brown pickup truck could sprout lilies, roses, carnations? And what about the balloons tied to the fender, sideview mirror, and tailgate? Inside the cab, over the bed, cellophane-wrapped bouquets rise amid cards, handwritten notes, a poem until all the empty space fills, until absence becomes presence, for a while.
Virginia Tech, 2007
On the far wall hang 27 clocks, each stopped at 9:40. In the foreground, Liviu Lebrescu reclines in a black Eames lounge chair. In the afterlife, people ask him not about his experience of the Holocaust or about the university shooting, but about his work in aeroplasticity and aerodynamics. He often pauses as he answers, smiling broadly, and glances over his shoulder, where out of the windows his students still climb.
Marysville Pilchuck High School, Washington, 2014
In the foreground, a round table from the cafeteria, surrounded by five empty chairs. At each place rests a teenager’s phone showing a grinning selfie.
Not ten feet behind the table stands a leafless tree, dangling handguns.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida, 14 February 2018
White crosses, white stars of David, each with a red heart, each with a name: Alyssa, Scott, Martin; Nicholas, Aaron, Jaime; Chris, Luke, Cara; Gina, Joaquin, Alaina; Meadow, Helena, Alex; Carmen and Peter. A litany of the dead, including eleven dead children. If I propose their names make a dirge, you may reply, ‘How very American’.
Santa Fe High School, Texas, 18 May 2018
In this art classroom, paintings and drawings cover an entire wall: still lifes mingling fruit and ceramics; portraits surely self-portraits given the apparent age of the faces; and life drawings focusing on specific body parts—here a foot, there a neck, and many hands sketched with attention to skin, veins, knuckles.
At the back, in a large supply closet, teenagers hide as they hear the shooter sing, ‘Another one bites the dust’ as they hear his footsteps approach just before the bullets.
Central Academy of Excellence, Kansas City, Missouri, 12 February 2019
There is snow on the ground, but in America, there is no such thing as a blank canvas. Wind drives a basketball across a parking lot, and Mylar balloons rise into a white sky: pink hearts amid blue, gold, and silver stars. In the place of an artist’s signature in the lower right corner, a caption: ‘Anjanique Wright, 15’.
Carrie Etter is Reader in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. These poems are from her forthcoming pamphlet, The Shooting Gallery (Verve Press). She has published four collections, most recently The Weather in Normal (UK: Seren; US: Station Hill, 2018).