Parable in Praise of Violence

By Tony Barnstone Tony Barnstone

“Violence is as American as cherry pie.”
            —H. Rap Brown, former Black Panther justice minister

Thanks for the violence. Thanks for Walt’s rude muscle
pushing through the grass, for tiny Gulliver crushed
between the giant’s breasts. Thanks for Moby’s triangular hump
and Ahab’s castrated leg. Thanks for the harpoons.
Thanks for this PBS history of the automatic pistol.

The good machine is simple, few moving parts,
an efficiency of what’s preserved and what is wasted,
so with each shot the recoil cocks the gun to shoot again,
then recoil, cock and shoot again, recoil, cock,
and so on till the target buys it, or your ammo’s spent.

Thanks for the poem, which is really a little pistol:
load and cock, point and aim, then the trigger,
the hammer, the powder, the discharge, the bullet,
the target, the recoil, the crime. No smoking gun,
just ballistics, caliber, powder marks, the question why.

My life is like a loaded gun, and when I aim it at you
I hope to take off the top of your head,
no safety on, no playing nice, just the spark,
the flash, the damage, just red American
cherry pie violence. So, thank you

for the harpoon gun we aim at God and death
and all the unknown world, and for the spear-stuck beast,
rope ripping through torn hands, for what
refuses to be caught and what we fathom only by
riding the whale down into the deep, refusing to let go.

Tony Barnstone, “Parable in Praise of Violence” from The Golem of Los Angeles. Copyright © 2008 by Tony Barnstone. Reprinted by permission of Red Hen Press.

Source: The Golem of Los Angeles (Red Hen Press, 2008)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Tony Barnstone


Subjects Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Poetry & Poets, Humor & Satire, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Popular Culture


The son of poet and translator Willis Barnstone and visual artist Elli Barnstone, Tony Barnstone was born in Middletown, Connecticut, and raised in Indiana, Vermont, and Spain. He was educated at Wesleyan University; the University of California, Santa Cruz; and the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a PhD under poets Robert Pinsky and Robert Hass.
A poet, translator, editor, and writer of fiction, Barnstone . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Poetry & Poets, Humor & Satire, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Popular Culture


Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.