I had two kinds of guns when I was very young. The first was a cap gun. You inserted a roll of caps, pulled the trigger and — bang! I’m sure I was inspired by shows like Annie Oakley and Hopalong Cassidy, though there wasn’t a lot of shooting on those shows and when people were shot, there was no blood — they just fell down.

I loved the smell of caps. You didn’t even need a gun. You could just put them on the cement steps and pound them with a rock. Kids who didn’t mind breaking the rule “Don’t play with matches” might light a whole roll on fire. That was pretty exciting, but wasteful. Caps had a lot of value back then and you envied people who had a box of them.

The other kind of gun I had was a rubber band gun. You can buy them on the internet now, but I made mine. You can actually hurt someone with a rubber band gun since they shot stones, so I had to be a bit secretive when I made one. They were easy enough to make and the method was passed by word of mouth from kid to kid. All you needed was a scrap of wood, a clothespin, and a couple of rubber bands. If you were lucky and had access to a hammer, you could also pound in a nail at the end to keep the rubber band from flying off. I never shot that gun at anyone, not even an animal.

Since I grew up in suburbia, that was about the extent of my exposure to guns. I’m sure the occasional police officer had one holstered at his hip, but I don’t recall seeing many officers then either. They didn’t go into the schools the way they do now. Only the really bad kids had run-ins with the police.

I remember the first time I saw a gun drawn. I was 19 and living in Boston at the time. There was a guard from a Brinks truck standing outside a bank. It shocked me that he stood there on the sidewalk ready to shoot anyone if he needed to. The power of that gun affected me, the thought of how easy it would be for him to pull the trigger. This was a long time before news of mass shootings became so common.

Living in Maine, I’ve become accustomed to seeing men walking along the road carrying guns during hunting season. Rifles. I have to admit to still being a bit uneasy though I know there’s no ill intent. I’ve never fired a gun and maybe if I had, I’d feel differently. Or maybe not.

Ellie O’Leary fired a gun once. She told me, “My friend Paula and I were at her uncle’s house, just at the edge of Freedom Village, almost on the Montville line.” Ellie grew up in Freedom. This poem is from her book “Breathe Here,” which features many poems from her life in Maine. Her writing brought her many opportunities — hosting a radio show, teaching poetry, and organizing a writing program at an Adirondacks retreat center. She earned an MFA in Maine’s Stonecoast program and currently lives in Amesbury, Massachusetts, where she serves as poet laureate.


I Shot a Gun

Once when my friend Paula and I

were at her Uncle Wendell’s house

I shot a gun. We got to shoot

because he found out I had never shot

a gun before. I didn’t shoot

it into the air. I fired into the pond,

hoped I hadn’t killed any fish.

I knew it was a rifle; it was long

with one end of it resting

where my right arm met my shoulder

with the other end pointed

across the lawn, right to the water.

We lived in a place where guns

were common for hunting, not crime.

A handgun might have been laughed

at as a useless little thing.

I knew from that day I would always

be a wordsmith, not a warrior,

figured my aim would be better

with words than guns —

because when I pulled the trigger

my thought was, “Oh, kickback,

that’s what it means —

where the word comes from.”

Judy Kaber is Belfast’s poet laureate.

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