“Columbus, Ohio” by Bruce Rice

October 2, 2017

All I want to do is have my first decent breakfast in days and get centered. I’ve been criss-crossing the state’s highways all week. I’m here to write about two thousand-year-old Native American earthworks along tributaries of the Ohio River. Travel is the easy part. There are so many ways this could go wrong. I’m glad to be back in Columbus walking the downtown grid on a sunny Monday morning. It feels good to feel anonymous and ordinary. I take a window table of the Brioso Café with my copy of the Columbus Dispatch. There is something about a shooting on the front page, but it’s not the first thing I want to read.

I finish my coffee and huevos then head to the Columbus Metropolitan Library. There must be 100 people working on laptops or cell phones—seniors, young people looking up jobs or apartments, and grad students getting ready for seminars. Some are here for the free WI-FI. I like the click and hum of it. I settle in facing the floor-to-ceiling widow filled by a park and the white, 21-story office tower next door. There have been flags everywhere in the small towns I have driven though and even some yellow ribbons. But the flag on top of the insurance building next door is lowered to half-mast, it droops against the pole. At first I think a soldier from here has died in Iraq. Yesterday was October 1. It takes me the rest of the day to find out that while I was making my way home last night, getting a meal in my room, and pouring a drink before bed, a gunman was firing eleven hundred rounds into a crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas. No one I’ve met today has said anything about it. It’s hard to decode the silence.

Guns in so many houses. Over
the Motorists Insurance Building, the first
flag I’ve seen today, half-mast
and failing. Me with no TV
thinking Iraq.

I skipped the Dispatch’s
front page, Shooter in Vegas. Didn’t
like that so I turned to Page 3.
Two death penalties, a notice
of appeals, retrial denied.
Why ask a killer who wants
to live after all, or the aproned
young man stirring my latte in
the Library café as light
floods the books: what’s left
when the coverage teaches
the next person how, that useful
narrative of valorized grievance?

It’s simply the math.
Murder, the new norm.

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