by Dean Blehert

Sniper, you probably aren’t a very nice person.
Why should I address you? There is no you there,
because we don’t know who you are, and
least of all of us (if you can be called
one of us) — least of all do YOU know
who you are, and with each hit, you move
farther and farther from the possibility
of ever knowing who or what you are —
fading into that distance from yourself
you are rumored to be calling “God.”

When I was in college, sometimes, reading
rapidly and intently for a test (library
fraught with smell of winter-wet wool),
I’d find myself looking at the page
from a distance — 4 or 5 feet away, as if
through a long tube, the tiny page still,
oddly, perfectly legible, easier than ever
to take in with a glance.

You see us through a long tube, targets,
but that’s how you see your own body —
I don’t think you can get near it, it’s
electric, it repels you, but you think you are
getting even, though you aim at
the wrong targets, other people’s bodies.

The way you see it, you are creating effects
like mad: Events cancelled, national headlines,
top billing on TV news, everyone wondering
when you’ll be caught, why you’re doing it,
who you are. True, it’s not such a big deal,
shooting people. It doesn’t require much intelligence,
it doesn’t require charm, strength, integrity,
courage… — but you see it as a matter
of will: Anyone could do it, but nobody does,
just you, because they don’t have the will.
(And yet, you can’t stop, can you? There isn’t
anything else.)

The way I see it, you can’t create effects.
No one notices you much. No one gives a damn
about the you that has a name and address and
social security number (SSN for assassin).
Or if you’re able to fake a personality,
it may fool others, but not you. You know
that putting on a face to face another
is someone else’s game, not yours, because
you’re never sure anyone is behind anyone’s eyes.
As long as you can remember (not very long),
you’ve been alien, an extra-gallactic anthropologist.
(I can understand that, though when I feel
that way, there’s also the joy of finding
life like my own among these odd creatures).
You move among us concealed in your human exterior,
a hunter in buffalo-skin among the herd.

At first, not a hunter, but a black hole
of lostness, a hunger so deep and constant
that its blackness takes on solidity,
passes for a surface behind which you live;
though the blackness is nothing at all,
and nothing lives behind it (or so you believe,
but you like to pretend you are not lost,
only hiding). You find the hunter role
good cover, a glamorous excuse for being nothing,
for not knowing how to be human, for having
to learn by rote to imitate our emotions
(requiring putting up with the repulsive clown
in the mirror) — for being invisible:
no scent to disturb the grazing herd of us.

So, hunter, you create your effects, but you create
so little, it’s all synthetic, the rifle
does it all. What have YOU created? Fear —
borrowed from lousy movies, another damned sequel.
You can’t make anyone laugh. You can’t make
anyone love you. You can’t make anything.
You simply feed off our ancient nightmares
like a blood-gorged leech.

I hope you don’t read this until after
you are caught (if ever), because out here
among the naked parking lots, I don’t want
your half-squinted attention.

If I write about you, you win.
If I don’t write what I want to write
because of you maybe winning —
you win.
If I run with a zig-zag step and a lowered head,
you win. If I buy new underwear (just in case) you win.
If I regret ever having thought I might win a lottery
(supposedly as likely as my being shot by you),
you win. (But I never did think I might win
a lottery.)
If I — but what the hell do I care
if someone who wins by putting explosive, messy holes
in people’s heads thinks he has won. Hell,
you are a sponge for winning,
like a sponge, mostly hole, a holey ghost,
taking in anything, like a dog his vomit,
gorging without tasting. How can I grudge you,
who have never loved, your winning?

You probably tell yourself you can take it
or leave it, the thrill of killing from
a godlike distance, unseen, terrifying, because
God doesn’t HAVE to do ANYthing, and maybe
you can put it off for a few days,
but eventually it’s as ticklish as
a cough that won’t go away.

I used to regret the loss of forest,
but now the trees across from where I shop
make me nervous. So many things happening
in a large parking lot, so many cars,
moving or parked, in the lot, passing
on the road, what’s the use, if you want
to kill me, you will kill me; right now
there’s a window before me that won’t stop
a bullet. I am, however, hard to find,
because I know who I am; you can kill
only my body.

I don’t want my body to die now.
I want to lose weight first. And then
I want to enjoy my weight loss.

Though I write the stuff, I don’t much care
for poetry. But I hope you are not a poet.

I imagine you joining the crowds, milling about
with people in stores, thinking, “if only
they knew,” but on reconsidering, I doubt
that you are comfortable close to other bodies.
I doubt that you could deal with facing
another person across a table for more
than a tense moment, like a child’s contest,
trying not to be the first to blink. Maybe
you can bear to move among us briefly
after a kill, seeing us, close-up,
as potential targets, our closeness being
a kind of magnification, a permanent
high-resolution sighting. Probably
you will be caught when someone notices
that the people you look at flash
tiny red spots on their foreheads
until you look away. How does it feel
to be a rifle?

Probably you are clinging to being a rifle,
lest you find yourself spinning across
the next gas station or parking lot,
to be embedded in the yellow matter custard
of one of those one must not be touched by.

Who can you tell? And what if you say,
Look what I’ve done!” and we say,
“Sure, sure.”

You are not as interesting as any
of the people you killed or wounded.
You get a lot more attention, and
why shouldn’t you? It’s all you have.
You are only interesting. You are utterly
uninterested. How can you be interested
in a world that has no innerness,
only mechanical process, no people,
only targets, faces that can be blown up
and popped like balloons, mechanical ducks
in a shooting gallery being knocked over
one by one by one, by one as mechanical
as the he imagines his targets to be (and
who takes pride in being methodical, right)?

They are interesting because they have
or had interests. They were interested.
They were alive. We don’t know much about them,
because we don’t need to. Their interests
(in friends, family, business, art, etc.)
made the world a more interesting place
to look about in. Interested people
don’t attract our attention. They free it
to roam. They make the world interesting.
You make the world as flat as your eyes.

You pretend to pretend to be something hiding
where there is (you are certain) nothing;
yet, in the blackness you think you are –
because you can’t bring yourself to be it –
at the heart of it is an endless ragged convulsion,
unapproachable, violent, like the heart
collapsing in on itself with the thought
of one’s stupidest, most embarrassing,
most dishonorable action being exposed
to all, like the death throes of a gaffed
shark, like a dog shaking a rabbit,
like closing one’s eyes fist-tight and
scraping one’s head back and forth
across the pillow in an effort not to know
betrayal, like touching a high-voltage wire
to the tongue — and that’s just what
you’ve put there to make something else
not be, not have been, ever — placed between
you and it, so that if ever you should try
to find out what’s there, you’ll be plunged
into an endless shit-storm of distraction
and thrown back on your ass, singed and dazed.

What’s behind that? Something you did
that you knew you shouldn’t, many such things
(back when you still knew you shouldn’t),
but you had to do them to handle a confusion
that derived from something you didn’t understand,
an idea with a word in it you didn’t get.
Not too complicated.

Except that each solution became a problem:
Misunderstanding, not resolved,
was “solved” by going blank, retreating,
plunging into random action. The confusion resulting
included adopting as your own
the purposes you wrongly attributed
to those you feared — just as we,
fearing your bullets, begin to look
at everyone we see in passing white vans
almost as strangely as you look at us.

The confusion is “solved” by doing terrible things
(that puzzled frown frozen between the eyes
of a man who solves his confused marriage
by slaughtering his family). Remorse is “solved”
by electrifying it with the barbed no-man’s land.
your flatness holds in check. The pain of contact
with that slashing voltage is solved by burying it
in a black numbness you insist is nothing at all,
though it is also all that you are.

And being nothing among the jostling, interested throng
is “solved” by becoming a hunter, who makes nothing
of others, using borrowed energy, unable to create
his own.

If we knew better who we were, we’d know
that it takes far more than one lifetime
for one of us to snarl himself up so tightly
in his own web of not being one of us.

We would know that, once, you were a good person,
and that, even now, you are certain
that you are right, and not only right,
but the rightest of us all.

But having said that, frankly, dear you,
I don’t give a damn.
It’s not that you are going down.
You ARE down. You are the state of down.
We’d see more clearly the rapidity of your plunge,
but that it’s an ever more tightly wound spiral
occurring in ever more condensed space.
The direction we call down is inward.
You are spinning so fast you seem to be still.
You are becoming a spent bullet.

Those you kill will be back among the living.
One of them (whether you are caught or not
by us) will one day kick you down the sidewalk
on his way to school.

Or maybe there’s yet a chance for you to recover
your humanity. If so, it’s about as likely
as your winning the lottery.

[Note: the above poem was written during the siege of the DC area by a sniper in the month of October, 2002. The suspected sniper(s), (John Allen (nee Williams) Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, were caught. This poem has something to say, perhaps, about how impossible it is for someone who ceases to be human to recognize human rights.]