Vocal Shrapnel.

Was the word that started all this.

I used it to express exasperation.
Driving while on the phone, my wife in the passenger seat,
‘Fuck, what a mess?’ were my exact words.

I over use it, yes.
Like most of my friends.
To ‘cuss like a sailor’ couldn’t be more accurate amongst us.

I use it as an expletive while I’m alone.
Unable to pull a trick when riding, I mutter it under my breath.
Sometimes, I scream it, out loud, in parking lots.

Or after I’ve fallen.
Looping out.
Sliding improperly off a ledge.
Or diving headfirst, down a handrail.
A steep one.
My weight carrying me halfway down the stairs to the end, shoulder and face into the sand.
‘Fuck me!’ was what I screamed, lying there.
My upper extremities throbbing.
Parents with their children, in bathing suits, desperately trying to enjoy the summer.
They must of thought I was crazy, writhing in the dirt.

‘Why would you say that?’
My wife asked me, in a very calm and collected, very rational tone.
With little hesitation, I responded, ‘It’s just a word.’
This was my lame comeback,
a puerile defensiveness,
blurted out through guilt.

A word, powerful enough for parents to use ‘ear muffs’ as a protection against adolescent absorption.
Its meaning, so taboo, that ‘F-word’ commonly, and universally substitutes it.

I’d like to purge my ignorance starting now.
After all, words are sometimes enough to insure peace,
are powerful enough to initiate war.

To simplify any word as hollow?
I was horribly wrong.
Any use of the word ‘Gun’
brings back stale memories of Sunday with the family.
My step-grandfather had a cache of rifles at the lake house.
We’d load up that morning and roll out into the front yard.
With a manual skeet shooter, clay pigeons were lofted through the air.
We’d spray bird shot up into the sky. Hundreds of pellets in each round.
A killer cast net of death, minimizing any iota of our amateur accuracy.

My step-grandfather was squat and wide, his shirt never buttoned more than half way.
Imbedded in the pile of grey hair on his chest was a 24 karat gold chain, at the end, a giant anchor.
He was the family icon: a solid, stubby, boulder of machismo.

I’d try to bang out a couple disks, although for me, hitting one was a miracle.
On pulling the trigger, the hammer, cracking against the round, laid havoc on my eardrums.
And the wooden butt, its reflex leaving a deep purple bruise on my shoulder.

Mostly, I sat on the sidelines.
To watch the pissing contest amongst the men in my family.

The word ‘gun,’ skewed for me, connoting something it is intrinsically not:
An ache in my right shoulder,
loss of hearing,
or a phallic, family shit show.
‘Immigration’ was the topic of my final.
I was tossed, freshman year, into a technical writing class.
The professor, a very solemn instructor from Central Africa,
he asked that we compile an essay regarding immigration in the US.
Boring I thought, a waste of my already flagging interest in school.

With little knowledge, and absolutely no research, I procrastinated to produce a bullshit diatribe against illegals.
How our jobs here in Florida were getting taken by the ‘Mexicans.’
My thesis: regurgitated racism stemmed from table talk so typical of my grandparents.
West Virginia born and raised,
my grandmother, a poor, uneducated waitress,
my grandfather, a jazz musician in an all African American band.
You’d think their camaraderie alone would have subdued his ignorance.

On submitting my final draft, the professor corralled me in his office.
It was late April in Florida, and although the tiny wall unit belted out cold air,
I was sweating uncontrollably.
His tone solicited no pressure, with nothing but kindness and concern in his voice,
he asked me in a low, bellowing tone, if I truly believed what I had written.

‘I don’t think so,’ I answered, honestly.

Maybe I was scared of him.
Maybe I answered out of academic self preservation.
Or maybe, on the spot, I realized how absurd the whole situation was:
my groundless, indirect disdain for him.
For him, the immigrant.

Days later, I received my final grade.
Writing wasn’t for me, I accepted that fact and was ready to fail at something else.
But on opening the letter, I discovered, somehow, that I had passed.
To ‘Slaughter,’ literally, is what you do when you cut a living creature to zero.

The Tuvans are a small, almost extinct culture in Siberia,
a people in the back of beyond who rely on little provisions for survival.

When bringing sheep to slaughter, the Tuvan’s make a small incision in the lamb’s skin,
where the executor reaches in with a finger and snaps an artery.
The sheep falls out so peacefully, its eyes are often checked to confirm death.

In the dying Tuvan language, the word slaughter also means ‘kindness.’
‘Gay,’ but not ‘gay’ as in bad taste.
Not the ‘gay’ defined as ‘wrong’ by the Christian Right.
Not a creative fax pau, as in ‘that shit’s gay,’ told to me by a younger kid at the skatepark.

Gay was my professor’s sexuality.
Like a dark bearded Santa, his cheeks became rosy when he joked around.
His practical intelligence was contagious,
he delivered to us the abstract, brought it down to earth with a touch of humor.

I attended his media studies class, where we covered theories on advertisement, on pop-culture.
He introduced us to Semiotics.
A theory of signs and symbols, and their functions in language.
An applied philosophy.
Something as young adults we could digest.

Semiotics taught us that words have many layers of meaning.
Infinite and fickle like the universe.
Words like dwarf stars. Millions of them.
Born, they eventually supernova,
become invisible dark matter,
and forever lurk, manipulating perception,
in the hidden compartments of our minds.
During the past couple weeks, ‘gun control’ has been THE headline.

The feds chipping away at the second amendment.
‘He’ll take our guns away, like Hitler, Mao and Stalin,’
an absurd take on reality spread by Alex Jones.
Some think that the president should be impeached for this legal atrocity.

But what does ‘control’ mean?
Its linguistic ‘Hard C’ sounds threatening, guttural almost,
as if spoken off the tongue of a language historically allied with totalitarians.

Or maybe, just maybe, it connotes something a bit more commonsensical.

By definition, ‘control’ is ‘to reduce the incidence or severity of, especially to innocuous levels.’
To regulate the amount of rounds in a semi-automatic weapon.
To thoroughly background check those seeking firearms.
To raise the price of a gun permit.

Is the ‘control’ of firearms simply a step to reduce gun violence in the US?

But that would be too apparent.

Instead, those words have been manipulated by paranoia.
Its pragmatic intentions, smelted down and cast into vocal shrapnel,
to defend against those mythical tyrants,
coming soon, to snatch up the very last of our inalienable rights.

Matt Coplon

Work by day. Ride by evening. Write by night.