This week witnessed the racially motivated terrorist attack at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, an act that was committed by a young madman with a gun, an act which killed nine individuals who had gathered at the church simply to pray. And while politicians, particularly Republican politicians, have stumbled all over themselves trying to condemn the act without offending any of their white conservative followers - and trying to paint the mass murder as something other than a racial attack, an act of terrorism, or a gun crime - it is what it is.
While digging through the internet trying to find a poem that might bear some relevance to the church shooting, I came across a unique a little known poem by one of America's premier poets, Carl Sandburg. It is unclear when Sandburg wrote A Revolver. The poem was unknown at the time of his death and only surfaced two years ago when a retired social work professor, Ernie Gullerud, age 83, discovered it while working as a volunteer in the rare books section of the library at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois.
Sandburg, in just a few lines, had quite a bit to say about guns and the power they bestow upon people. Dylann Roof, the twenty-one-year-old shooter in Charleston, was a relative nobody harboring a head full of hate - but then he got his gun, and now we all know who he is.
A Revolver explores a dark topic, one that sadly concerns us all.
by Carl Sandburg
Here is a revolver.
It has an amazing language all its own.
It delivers unmistakable ultimatums.
It has the last word.
A simple, little human forefinger can tell a terrible story with it.
Hunger, fear, revenge, robbery hide behind it.
It is the class of the jungle made quick and powerful.
It is the club of the savage turned to magnificent precision.
It is more rapid than any judge or court of law.
It is less subtle and treacherous than any lawyer or ten.
When it has spoken, the case can not be appealed to the supreme court, nor any mandamus nor any injunction nor any stay of execution in and interfere with the original purpose.
And nothing in human philosophy persists more strangely than the cold belief that God is always on the side of those who have the most revolvers.