Joanna Pearson

The Shooter

Emergency Room, East Baltimore

The testicle, unshucked and glistening,
makes us wince, but loses mystery,
a blood-streaked white against the dark skin
of this wild-eyed, weirdly silent kid.
Fifteen. The gentle shoulders, baby face.
His mama holds her head and starts to sway.
The room is full. Urology housestaff
lift that unshelled hard-boiled egg, inspect
its bluish contours in the light like jewelers,
prepare to sew it back into its purse
of scrotal skin. He turns and grimaces
into green waves of rumpled scrubs and faces,
insisting still he must've gotten hit
leaving the store with sodas for his friends.

But one gruff IV tech points out the bullet's
through his pocket, mutters, "How about
that for classic. Too ashamed to tell
the truth. He shot himself, dumb boy. The hell
if mine'll run around here playin' thugs."
They frown and help his mama to a seat.
Her shoulders shake, her slippers now are wet
with flecks of blood and squirted saline fluid.

No one standing here has said aloud
how a leg of his hangs limp, immobile,
how this denuded capsule on the thigh,
and the testicle spilled out like oyster meat,
primordial, exposed, and slippery,
unsettle and yet focus us to task.
He turns, big-eyed, to his shivering mom,
"Don't cry. It doesn't hurt me. I'll be fine."
Yet still I wonder why he isn't sobbing
while he observes this room, his crotch—endures
his nakedness, the pain. The lovely nurse
with a Southern accent and big bosom
takes his soft, child's hand and leans towards him,
then, turning to me, gestures that I take
his other hand. She stands there humming, says,
"You a grown man now—a real, grown man."