Two Poems

Shari Winslow

bed project 2
Photo Credit: Maureen Sill

My Grandmother’s Bed

At nine, in a cabin by the lake at our family reunion,
I sleep beside my grandmother.
I can either sleep there or on the floor,

or next to my little brother
on the lumpy hide-a-bed, where
even a wall of pillows cannot maintain the peace.

I lie very still between the sheets, tucked in
next to the feather-lightness of her bird bones.
She touches my wrist before sleeping.

We take pictures. She sits between her sisters,
two to her left and one at her right.
They share lipsticked smiles and strings of pearls,

sweaters and set hair. She is as light as air.
When I hug her I can feel her shoulder blades
under my small hands. The other three

have soft thighs that touch when they sit, they have
dimpled elbows, soft stomachs, smiling round cheeks,
stout ankles and feet sturdy in sandals.

After her death, I sleep alone in her bed,
alone on the main floor of the farmhouse.
When my family’s footsteps fade

from the rooms above my head, I imagine
what it must have felt like to lie here
swallowed in the darkness

two miles from the winking lights of town,
one mile from the nearest neighbor, one floor below
all the other empty bedrooms.

She slept alone, like this, for nineteen years, a lifetime
and a half for me. She was so light that the mattress
never took her shape.

Her bed goes with me to my first college apartment.
It takes my shape, and the shape of my lovers.
The sheets are always warm.

When I look out the window, across the alleyway,
I see lights where someone else is always home.


Gun Safety

My first lesson comes on a cold Saturday morning.
Early February. Not quite two months
after a man gunned down twenty children
and I hurled my lunch into the trash,
crying uselessly into my hands while my daughter
ate her peanut butter sandwich in a classroom
across town.

My brother inherited his guns from our grandfather, gifts
passed through generations, heavy with history—
the love language of silent men.
I remember the glass doors of the gun cabinet
downstairs in my father’s office, next to
the heavy oak desk. He never told me
not to touch them. I never tried.

But it seems like time to learn how
to handle one myself, once and for all,
so I can ground my opinion
in more than the way my stomach drops
when I read the news. My brother’s wife
has a friend who offers to teach us together.
Ed works for the local chamber of commerce,
usually shoots only photographs.

The Armed Defense Training Association
Introduction to Semiautomatic Handguns
(sent in the mail before our first class) instructs:
Always treat every gun as if it were loaded.
Always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction.
Keep your finger off the trigger until
you’re ready to fire. Be sure of your target,
and what’s beyond it.

Ed points to the picture window in his studio upstairs.
Know what’s beyond the other side of every wall.
The nearest target a barn 300 yards across
an empty field. Turn a few feet to the right
and you’d fire into the family room.

I am a student who would rather
take notes, but this class requires participation.
I learn the parts: Magazine. Slide. Frame.
He calls it “handgun familiarity” and I wonder
if my hands will always feel this cold,
if the gun will always feel so heavy.
Trigger. Magazine release. Slide release. Safety.

Last week a man shot a bus driver
and took a child underground. My neighbor jogs
in her I love Guns & Coffee t-shirt. My brother
cleans his Colt 1911 and HK USP Compact,
spreading the parts across the kitchen table.
When we leave for the range, he tells me
how proud Dad will be.

And wouldn’t you know. It turns out
I’m a natural, favoring the 9 millimeter
though I’m pretty competent with a Ruger Mark III.
You’re a Glock girl, Ed tells me, gently
adjusting my stance. Where my sister-in-law
recoils, is timid with the trigger,
I plant my feet and lean in.

I have learned this already:
the feel of a gun in my hand changes
something about me. I am tense.
Aggressive. Focused. The target
is all there is, and I hit it,
every time.

My hands are still cold.
I pick up the gun again, bearing
the entire loaded weight of it.

pencilShari Winslow was born in a strange little town in northern Montana one winter afternoon thirty-five years ago. Since then, she’s put down deep roots in wheat fields and mountain lakes, written love letters to rivers and the stretch of I-94 between Montana and Minnesota, and wondered if she’ll ever truly appreciate a place while she still lives there. Currently, she lives with her husband and her two children near the shore of Puget Sound. She spends her days trying to make high school students fall in love with the language they so carelessly abuse, and most of the time she loves that pretty fiercely. She never leaves the house without at least one notebook and something to read. Email: skwinslow[at]

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