The Gift

When I got the box home from the gun shop, I let it sit on my kitchen table
in its wax wrapping for hours before I opened it.

Safe from the elements. Protected from rust
and more esoteric forms of corrosion.

My father gave me a rosewood chess set when I turned twelve.
I’d never felt so loved through and through, almost literally, as if 
I were transparent —

and it probably wasn’t love, just a lucky, last-minute guess
at the toy store, which is probably what most love is, anyway.

I took the set into my room, shut the door,
determined to master every fork and zugzwang,

that strange position where you’d be safe
if only you didn’t have to make a move.

Now I’d given myself a perfect gift. I imagined the gun at rest
in a velvet sack next to its dainty box of   bullets. I wouldn’t need many.

And no sequined wrapping paper could have been more beautiful
than the brown waxed sheet the clerk had unrolled

and cut along the steel edge in one long, smooth stroke.
When I finally slit through the layers to open it,

the paper was as delicate and rich as sheets of pastry
in baklava, with a mass of dark chocolate in the center.

I’d never touched a gun. I loved how perfectly its handle fit
my hand: centuries of engineering and design

coming together in the “unit,” and I knew it would work.
Unlike toys, religious rituals, erotic techniques, and works of art,

I could depend on it. The only other device I own
that fulfills its function so well is my reading glasses,

and I used a soft gray cloth just like the one I clean them with
to wipe the oil from my fingertips

as I dropped the bullets one by one
into the somber chambers. I just need to know it’s there,

like the extra purse I keep hidden in the closet
with a money clip and a neatly folded change of clothes.

I don’t need a class in safety or marksmanship.
If I ever use it, it will be at close range.

It may be the only way to get rid of the stranger inside.
It may be the only way

to get inside someone I love
when every other route has been systematically barred.

More Poems by Robert Thomas