The Jargon of Violence

Every fetish makes students write this way.
A few blind, rambling fragments,
mysterious spelling and punctuation,
then someone hikes the ball, and the rest
is the staccato chatter of the newscaster sprinting
without a misstep into the end zone.

This one scares me, though.
A kid with half-closed, distracted eyes
lingers after class to stammer
of military carbines, fragmentation grenades,
the surprising deftness of an aircraft carrier
under skillful command.
Here’s his definition essay.
An introduction clumsily executed,
mercifully brief, breaks into
crisp prose as heartlessly machined
as the assault rifles he endeavors to classify.
His heart does not beat but ticks,
incapable of a passion not derived
from his disaffected minutemen.
I browse, sniffing plagiaries.
He ducks this one. A few short phrases
but even those, stock Patriot patois.
Clauses assembled from modules
precision tooled by dot-commandos.
Of course this sad soldier
confuses a shotgun with a rifle
but his comrades won’t care.
Either one would do the trick.

“Clearly organized, painstakingly detailed,”
I write, “but invokes no shared values.”
Thinking of Columbine, I add,
“Some improvement since the last.”

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About Greg Bryant

I teach writing and literature at Highland Community College in northeast Kansas.
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3 Responses to The Jargon of Violence

  1. Chris says:

    This one disturbs me.

    And it should. What an unsettling subject. I think the free form nature of the poem augments its urgent,concerned, and somewhat angry tone.

    The last stanza is especially powerful. How sad that a professor should have to consider such events as the Columbine massacre when remarking on a student’s essay.

    My only suggestion is that the phrase: ” no mush about “Love” or “Trust” for him.” be somehow separated from the main thread (using parentheses maybe?), to make it an aside. I feel it interrupts the flow to the description of the student’s rambling essay. [Advice taken. What used to be line 14 is gone. Thanks. -gb]

    There are so many phrases I like from this poem:

    “the staccato chatter of the newscaster sprinting
    without a misstep into the end zone.”

    “A kid with half-closed, distracted eyes lingers after class to stammer of military carbines…”

    “An introduction clumsily executed, mercifully brief, breaks into crisp prose as heartlessly machined as the assault rifles he endeavors to classify.”

    These all have nice rhythm and sound, and are beautifully unsettling.

  2. bryon says:

    I’m with this poem right up to the last two lines. Then I get a chill. Actually, I fear he shares his values (such as they are) with entirely too many people, some of whom live too close.

    I’m in complete agreement with Chris about the wonderful phrases you’ve used. I’ll add this nice line: “I browse, sniffing plagiaries.” There is a real bloodhound aspect to that, and it’s a perfect image.

    Most excellent.

  3. Greg Bryant says:

    My only suggestion is that the phrase: ” no mush about “Love” or “Trust” for him.” be somehow separated from the main thread (using parentheses maybe?), to make it an aside. I feel it interrupts the flow to the description of the student’s rambling essay.

    You know, I think the line can be deleted altogether. And should be. When I make the change, I’ll kindly edit Chris’s comment to put a note in there that I took his advice, so he wasn’t hallucinating.

    I’m not really concerned about another Columbine, but hey, you never know. The character in here is a composite. (I guess that means they’ll come after me in a platoon.)

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