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No Mercy

Poem by Dakota Parks

Published by Troubadour, 2020

Leaving a three-hour poetry seminar at 9pm
Fingers webbed through pink bronzed knuckles
Unused pepper spray dangling from keychains
Eye contact made only with the buckles on my boots
A female Southern tendency already acquired
Followed by a shoulder glance every ten feet
Walking side by side, holding hands with the light poles
The realization that the spacing on the pink metal knuckles
Is intended for a man's hand,
Or a loophole law belt buckle
That if I hit anyone, or anything with them on,
I would break every bone in my four fingers
I retrieve a 3.5-inch pocketknife from my purse instead
Because there are restrictions of knife-carrying
On college campuses
But not assault riffles

Suddenly, I am transported back to Iowa,
Fourteen years old,
The kitchen stove sizzling in the kitchen
Pleading with my mother as she cooks dinner
To let me take the train to Chicago
To visit the Art Institute and go to a poetry slam;
God knows I need the culture
Cornfields and cattle pastures are not
Conducive to creativity,
She caves, on one condition:
She drives us to Leon's Gun and Pawn Store
To buy me a new pocketknife and bronzed knuckles
Sized perfectly for my tiny hands
Today, I have an entire dresser drawer in my bedroom
Filled with shiny pocketknives
Crusted in Jack-o'-lantern juices and dried cake icing
Intended, as she said, to cut the hay-bales open for the horses
We both know that hay-bales can be cut open with
Car keys, sharp nails, even teeth
Or a lifetime of weapons built upon her trust issues
Purchased for birthdays, holidays, and attending poetry slams

The metal detector buzzes in New Orleans when it hits my purse,
Nineteen years old,
My best friend, a military cop,
Secretly slid her handgun into my purse
When I left her house, unaccompanied
To wander New Orleans alone,
To listen to jazz in a bar off Frenchman street
And walk to buy a whiskey grilled-cheese sandwich
And finally, to House of Blues in the quarter for poetry
Mississippi and Louisiana are open-carry states
I know this
I know every law on weapons in every state I have ever visited
My mother ensured this
Security tells me to go put that thing in my fucking car
As if I have skipped two entire days of college courses
And drove three hours to murder my favorite living poet
Gibson recites a poem that night, entitled Orlando,
Drumming up reasons to have metal detectors at poetry readings

An alarm is wailing at a gay club in Pensacola, FL
Eighteen years old,
One month after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando
The second deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11
My friend is five seconds away from kicking down the bathroom stall door
The club music droning and beating behind the siren
"Please evacuate the facility. Your life is in danger. Exit immediately."
"Please evacuate the facility. Your life is in danger. Exit immediately."
My jeans are around my ankles as I slide the stall open
My friend has her girlfriend slung over her shoulder
And a handgun drawn from her waist holster
Every glass cup in the club is shattered on the floor
A mass of humanity fleeing out one exit
Half-naked, covered in dance sweat and glitter
On the phones with loved ones crying
Horrified at the idea of a copy-cat shooter
Instead, a false alarm
Triggered by burnt popcorn
No one is surprised when the club shuts down two months later

7AM in a crowded bar in Paris,
Twenty years old,
The smell of burnt coffee beans wafts into the street,
I have brought no weapons abroad with me,
Except my voice
I finish my espresso and close my journal,
I walk into the toilet,
A drunk man follows me in and pins me against a wall
One arm is against my throat and the other groping my ass
He is whispering what I assume are French obscenities
I have been in Paris for two hours
The only French words I know are bonjour and merci
On the top of my lungs
Screaming politely: NO THANK YOU, repeatedly
I dig the heel of my boot into the soft leather tops of his shoes
He lets out a scream as the bartender pushes the door open
I tell no one this story
Because I know they will blame me
Why I went alone
To drink espresso and write poetry
In a bar

The youth counselor tells us we are not to blame
Ten years old
She slides two candy bars and two cans of soda
Across her desk and introduces two police officers
They listen to us recite our stories
Behind confused and muffled sobs
My best friend asks what will happen to the man
She tells them he was our friend,
My mother seated behind us, interrupts
Screaming "no he was a pedophile"
My mother was among the group of concerned parents
When the school enrolled a dozen strangers
To visit the elementary classrooms monthly
And teach students about different occupations
Our fourth-grade class received a truck driver
We thought it was part of the program when he asked
For our telephone numbers;
We were too young to understand that grown men
Don't ask children when their parents aren't home
Six years later when my mother bought my first car
She put a truck-driver's steel tire thumper
In the front seat of my car and told me to use it
If a man ever tried to jump me-
A tire thumper is one of the few weapons
You can legally carry in a car.

Our shotguns rattle in the backseat of my father's pickup
Twelve years old
It has been a bad winter
The animals are starving to death
The coyotes are preying on the cattle dogs
And ripping apart the steel wire chicken coops with their teeth
It will be a hard spring if we lose anymore animals
Watching my dad track the pawprints in the snow
To their den under the railroad tracks
He taught me that other things could be weapons
Rocks, snares, a loud scream, even the farm dogs-
We stopped and listened to the birds
As our old Labrador came running through the brush
He taught me to listen for the bird's warning calls
And never go into the forest without a weapon
He cleaned and polished our guns that night
Before setting his again next to his bed

The metal steps to the front door on my RV creak from weight bearing down,
Twenty years old,
My cat jolts his head up at the noise and I set my novel down
Reaching for the youth-sized shot gun
Propped up on my nightstand by the bed
The gift from my mother when I moved away to college
An expensive prop collecting dust in my coat closet for two years
Until last week when a Tinder date tried to rob me
A woman living alone is an easy target
So, they say-
Stealing my spare keys,
And coming back at night in hopes I was asleep
Not waiting with a gun and newly changed locks

The lock is jiggling on the door to our hotel in Amsterdam
Twenty years old
My friend has lost his key
Fallen asleep drunk at a bus station
Awoken with his passport and wallet stolen,
His American license and the exact change for one bus ticket
Left in the palm of his hand
Not raped
Not assaulted
Not harmed
A luxury.
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