Poem of the Week | February 10, 2014

This week we’re delighted to offer another poem from our new winter issue, 36.4. Alexandra Teague is the author of Mortal Geography (Persea 2010), winner of the 2009 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and 2010 California Book Award, and The Wise and Foolish Builders (Persea 2015). A previous NEA and Stegner Fellow, she is Assistant Professor of Poetry at University of Idaho and an editor for Broadsided Press.

Author’s note:

“Repeater” was largely inspired by Winchester Co. ads and letters that I read in the McCracken Research Library archives at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. Since I started writing about the Winchester story, I’d wanted to write a villanelle about repeating rifles (how could I resist?). I’d encountered a few quotations from Oliver Winchester—including Like history it repeats itself—but hadn’t found a way to give the repetition momentum. Getting more language from the archives, and thinking about the gun’s marketing—making the repetition not only about the firing but also about the sales pitches—finally unlocked this. The Winchester didn’t accidentally become the “Gun that Won the West”: the company actively marketed it to make up for poor Civil War sales, and like other companies, sent “missionaries” to sharpshoot and sell. I imagined the villanelle as a way to consider how these claims about Winchester repeaters, and their repercussions, have kept echoing down to our present.

 

Repeater

Where is the military genius to grasp this terrible engine?
Winchester wrote. This gun that can be loaded
on Sunday and fired all week. This gun that makes a man

 

the equal of a company each minute, a regiment in ten,
a full brigade in thirty. This daylight full of lead—
where is the genius to grasp it? This terrible engine

 

that can sink in a river, fire like it’s never been
wet? A resolute man on horseback can travel West
for a month of Sundays: this gun makes a man

 

always ready. So He Cannot Be Captured. No weapon
more effective in the world, its aim more deft.
Where is the military genius to grasp this terrible engine—

 

to look past its sometime misfires, its uneven
first trials? To see like history it repeats itself (and yes,
sometimes stutters). To fire the gun makes a man

 

almost certain of safety. Against grizzly or Injun,
unequaled. Loaded safe as a church nave. And yet
where is the military genius to grasp this terrible engine?
Load it on Sunday; fire all week. This gun makes a man.

 

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