Our poetry editor, Joe Pan, has selected a poem by Rosebud Ben-Oni for his series that brings original poetry to the screens of Hyperallergic readers.

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Anton van Dalen, "The Shooting Gallery" (1982), pencil drawing (23 x 29") (image courtesy the artist)

Anton van Dalen, “The Shooting Gallery” (1982), graphite on paper, 23 x 29 inches (image courtesy of the artist, and P.P.O.W Gallery, New York)

Guns on the Table

In the years I lived
With a taiwanese former pop star
Who couldn’t feed the business
Couldn’t hang with the gangs of asia
Behind johnnie to’s triad odes
In which there are no guns at all
In his films gangsters are strangled
They are chopped up in meat grinders
And fed to dogs
Tethered to sworn brothers
Who will stab to death sworn uncles
That’s the business and could you 
Could you
The former pop star’s mother asked
She’s produced films all over asia
She wants to know just what I’m made of
How would I handle
Would I go missing
For hours like carina lau
In days of being wild
Shot topless
By those guns on the table
Could I could I too
Just to make a film would I
Sit in a restaurant straightforward
Somewhere in central
Where anyone who’s anyone in hk knows
Business is done elsewhere
Would I write of mexico’s guns
With hong kong gangsters
Who finance it all
Don’t you know what I know 
She said when you roll up to the table
What will you show

That summer 3 men came to my childhood home
Claiming they’d fix the cable
My parents didn’t own
Then father wanted a gun but mama
Said no this woman
Loves clint eastwood and desperado
She forgives the scantily clad for the gore
My mama is guns on the table
Her first words in english
Were make my day no
At 12 while abuelo hunted javelina along the border
She chased away a man who came to take their home
She alone
With a butcher’s knife
And then a shovel
After it all mama couldn’t walk straighter
She threw off every saint and every novio
Don’t forget she says why el mariachi dies alone 

On the border police kidnapped an uncle
In that long before of mexico
Long before
When the cartels were still in colombia
The police threw him to jail
Poked him in the ribs
Skinned a print off a finger
He was only freed when my family gathered
Enough cash the kind to bring
Guns to the table
And what of his grandson
The namesake of my abuelo
Born of the border
He got 60 years at 18
Gangs addiction first-degree because what else
What else but for guns on the table
I’m more like my cousin than you’ll ever know
I’m no heroine
I’m not your girl
What would I do at times
To get done without the getting
When in israel I shot my first rifle
It knocked me off my feet                          I was
A firehose of firemen thrown      I arose
Vaguely heartbroken         then vengeful
I wanted more
Not some vato in his backyard
With tactic-issued alphabetized spit-polish
I wanted simple
Four shells in a pump action
Pick myself off
One by one
In some wide wide
Open                     I wanted
Recoil           I WANTED
Recoil    I want
For my cousin
Strung on heroin
Trying to take his life to avoid prison
My cousin making it known  on a phone
Through glass separating his hand from my own
At 18 he’s done what he was to do
Now how to disappear
How to go about
Without eating your heart
When someone rolling up to the table
About wolves and brotherhood

And what of a woman
What’s she to do
When she knows the business
All too well when they came knocking
That summer knocking on the door
Honey little friend don’t you know
K-dramas can’t ever show
Anything at all even simulated
But in every one there’s a woman
Seized by the arm don’t you know
She wants to she wants to she has
To be told honey do you feel lucky
Well now don’t you

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Born to a Mexican mother and Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a recipient of the 2014 NYFA Fellowship in Poetry and a CantoMundo Fellow. She was a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan, and a Horace Goldsmith Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists Collective, 2013) and an Editorial Advisor for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts (vidaweb.org). Her work appears in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Arts & Letters, Bayou, Puerto del Sol, among others. Find out more about her at 7TrainLove.org.

Joe Pan grew up along the Space Coast of Florida and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His debut poetry book, Autobiomythography & Gallery, was named “Best First Book of the Year” by Coldfront...