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Kalashnikov's Dream

[This is both a metrical and thematic experiment. Metrically, it adapts the classical elegiac meter to English in a new way, employing slant rhymes between the third and sixth feet of the pentameter to supply quantitative force to an accentual meter. Slant rhyme achieves sonority without jingling, but is so much more difficult that, in the proportion of effort to effect, I cannot recommend this form of the elegy. Thematically it tells, with poetic license, how Mikhail Kalashnikov got the idea for the gun that bears his name. Presumably this has been done before in Russian; but I don't read Russian. The atom bomb is a common subject of literary meditation; and in the history of the 20th century Kalashnikov's dream was at least as important as Szilard's.]

Now that the battle is over Mikhail lies in his sickbed
   Dreaming of faraway home, dreaming of battles to come.
Thinking of windmills, thinking of lawnmowers, hoping for good work
   Something to earn him a place, something his country can bless.
Russia his motherland, cruel cold mother who knows and commands him
   Exiled his childhood land, gave him a freezing wind
Russia his motherland, spendthrift spending her children in millions,
   Loading her sons into trains, planting the fields with their bones.
Russia his mother is dying, bleeding from hundreds of deep wounds
   Counting the men to a gun—they have a gun for each man.
Mikhail was gentle but Germany's evil buries his conscience
   Killing his slow-fingered friends—nothing to raise but their hands.
Surely the soldier who fights for his homeland should have a fair chance
   Armed with a gun of his own, faithful through muddying rain.
Germany makes them so complex, even the parts have their pieces
   Numberless sockets and springs, pistons and delicate prongs
Some piece always remained when he put them together in secret.
   Though they would fire the same, surely each piece had a home?
Mikhail was trained for the weapons of farmers, lawnmowers threshers and grain mills,
   Even if he had a plan—still he would work all alone.
All that he knows is that all that is useful proves to be simple,
   Simple, plain as a pole; useful, sure as a nail.
All that he knows is that all that is complex is useless,
   Fickle as gambler's cards, faithless as diplomat's words.
Raw with the shame of his innocence Mikhail drifts off to deep sleep
   Thinks of the friends he has lost, thinks of how vain were their boasts
Dreams of a faceless rumor he heard told somewhere in darkness
   Telling the news of a bomb, news of men bottling doom
News of the race for a weapon whose hell fire godlessly damns men,
   Peoples a city with ghosts, blinds with the dawn of its blast.
Cold in his thin sheets Mikhail dreams of a way to do better
   What is its use at the last, leaving nothing but waste?
Mikhail dreams of a weapon cheaper than shoes for the soldier,
   Gun for the beaten and lost, gun for the faceless and least.
Gun to make every man equal, gun to take meaning from conquest,
   Empire only a dream, something that lived out its time.
Armed with their own strength men need not fear the machines of the new age,
   No more be ground by the wheel, no more be slaves for the call.
Simpler even than simple, simpler even than instinct
   Easy as sitting to cook, easy as lying to fuck
Obvious pieces that fatefully fit and have joy in the fitting
   Clip slams home with a click, chamber charged with a cock,
Thumb on the lever to let loose, take aim and hold tight,
   Tolerant pistons jerk, blow back drum rolls bark.
Restlessly Mikhail dreams in his sickbed here where the age ends,
   Far from the fate of his name, far from remembering home.