Are you even an American?
Are you even an American until the sirens wail and the rumble of helicopters shakes your house as much as your heart?
Until you shuffle your children into the basement family room, shutting the curtains and locking the doors, in case the gunman is out there?
Until you hold your breath for hours
dreading the release of names
waiting for the response to a text
wondering if this was all an imagined horror,
because such things happen in other places?
Until you’ve received the frantic messages yourself, your fingers flying as you confirm that yes, we’re at home, we’re safe….for now?
Until your street is blocked with media tents, broadcasting images that look like the aftermath of every other mass shooting, except this time it’s from the library lawn where your children read books and pick dandelions?
Are you even an American until you have to grapple with the reality that all the candles by the gates are for neighbors who died
scanning cartons of chicken broth
waiting in line at the pharmacy counter for a vaccine?
Until you’ve hung signs and flowers in a place you’ve been countless times before, in the ordinary days of buying bread without blood on the floor?
Until you’ve fallen to your knees by the yellow crime scene tape, knees sinking into the soggy spring earth, and wondered how you’ll pass this place every day?
Until you suddenly become very aware of the fact that you are indeed alive, knowing some are not?
Are you even an American until you come face to face with realizing it could have been you
who becomes a victim to gun violence in America?
Until you look your daughter in the eye and try to explain without weeping that a man with a gun did a very bad thing just two blocks down the hill, and we don’t know why?
Until you learn that a brave father perished while protecting your community?
Until you’ve heard the bullets spray, if only in your nightmares?
Are you even an American until this story comes to visit your town
If I wasn’t before, then I am truly American now.
By Allison Deptolla
Allison Deptolla is a Lecturer at the International English Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She holds a BA in English and an MA in Applied Linguistics. This is her first published poem.