Brian Turner's "Here, Bullet"

Updated on April 6, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Brian Turner

Source

Introduction and Text of "Here, Bullet"

Brian Turner's "Here, Bullet" consists of sixteen unrimed lines.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The speaker addresses a bullet, dramatizing the theme of fear. Although Turner's experience as a soldier in the Iraq War informs his works, it is the universal character of this poem that distinguishes it from other war poems. The speaker of this poem is not necessarily involved in war; the speaker could be anyone who deeply contemplates death by gunshot.

Here, Bullet

If a body is what you want
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.

Brian Turner reading his poem, "Here, Bullet"

Commentary

The speaker in Brian Turner's modern classic, "Here, Bullet," dramatizes the transformation of fear that produces and distinguishes heroes.

First Movement: Addressing the Bullet

If a body is what you want
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.

The speaker says to the bullet, "If a body is what you want, / then here is bone and gristle and flesh." Gristle is the term used for cartilage in meat, that is, when an animal's body has been slaughtered for its meat, the animal's cartilage is referred to as gristle. By calling his own body's cartilage gristle, the speaker is dehumanizing his own body. By addressing the inanimate object, bullet, as if it had a desire, the speaker is personifying the bullet.

The speaker then implies that the bullet wants a body, and that he is willing to offer his. But by dehumanizing his own body, his offering to the bullet is lessened. Instead of a human body, the bullet will, in fact, get only an animal's body with bone and gristle and meat. To further dehumanize this body offering, the speaker refers to "the clavicle-snapped wish." He further devolves from a mammal into a fowl; it is the chicken's wishbone that is snapped in the little ritual to determine who gets a wish; the person whose wishbone snaps off bigger gets his wish. Next, the speaker creates a surrealistic image, "the aorta's opened valves."

The aorta is itself a valve and does not possess valves. Thus, the speaker confuses the would-be bullet by claiming that he is offering it something that he does not even possess. The speaker's next offering is "the leap / thought makes at the synaptic gap." With this gift to the bullet, he has snapped himself back to a thinking human being. But now he encounters the desperation of fear again.

Second Movement: Personification of the Bullet

Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,

In order to mollify that fear, the speaker heightens the personification of the bullet; now the bullet, like the human being fearing the bullet, possesses an adrenaline rush and has learned to crave that rush, as do human beings who have become addicted to the substance.

The bullet receives its adrenaline rush from its "inexorable flight, that insane puncture / into heat and blood." When the bullet is fired, it becomes unstoppable; its flight cannot end until is crashes into something solid. And as the bullet strikes its target of a body, its crazed and determined speed "puncture[s]" that body of "heat and blood."

The concept confuses the thinking human's synapses across which those thoughts continually leap, and the only way to parse the nihility of such an occurrence is to call it insane. But the speaker cannot stop his anxiety and fear with mere naming-calling; thus, he challenges the bullet by taunting, "And I dare you to finish / what you've started."

Third Movement: Owning the Situation

here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering

The speaker now takes complete ownership of the situation. He has bargained with the bullet, making it utterly a debating collaborate, but its trajectory cannot be changed; only the speaker's attitude can change in his confrontation with an insane, adrenaline charged entity.

Thus the speaker asserts, "Because here, Bullet, / here is where I complete the word you bring / hissing through the air." The speaker insists that he will have the last word; he will not allow the bullet to take his body without offering a strong, positive rejoinder.

Fourth Movement: Spiritual vs the Physical

my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.

Here the speaker himself becomes a weapon, as his own physical form presents itself as the place "from where, I moan / the barrel's cold esophagus." He is not now an animal, and no longer the fowl with a wishbone. He is now coldly constructed from an equal material, possessing an even greater quality than the same metallic one, upon which the bullet depends for its own existence.

The speaker's moan is capable of "triggering / [his] tongue's explosives for the rifling I have / inside of me." It does not matter that the bullet may lodge itself deep within his body, for he is now a weapon himself, and he is the place "where the world ends, every time."

The expendable, physical body may seem desirable to the ignorant bullet, but the human being is capable of realizing his nature as a soul, who will exist even if the insane bullet punctures that flesh and blood. The soul's spiritual weapon excoriates the physical bullet, shaming it into the nothingness that it really is. The fear with which the speaker began his drama has evaporated into the rarified air of knowledge of the eternal, infinite soul.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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