The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Jim Daniels

Gun Shy, Warren, Michigan


FACT: The 40 oz. is a hard-hitting, piss-yellow, oblong bottle of 5% ABV malt liquor that

gets warm before you even hit the bottom of the glass. 
FACT: It embodies every aspect of American life: cheap pleasure without the hard work. 
HYPOTHESIS: The 40 is the most patriotic drink in America.


Nothing says 'America' like an ice-cold can of mass-produced beer. Anheuser-Busch

announced today that the company is replacing the Budweiser logo with “America” on its

12-oz. cans and bottles this summer


Gun Shy—I’ve always been more
than a little, even before I got one
shoved in my face
up close and personal

behind a cash register
age 16 and working
on getting laid, shy
until drunk, then subtle as a gun.


When Ray Tubbs from down the street
still went to school, sometimes we shared
a joint on the way—a smile and a joke
kind of guy, that early, and stoned.

After he shot his father
I wanted to ask him why
but never saw him again
though saw his father

still fertilizing lawns with his red truck
just a little slower, not shy about missing
three fingers on the left hand
he’d raised against dying.


The first two people I knew got shot
by family, the worst kind of intimate,
I’ve got to say, and both on our block:
the Daniels kid across from Tubbs

and two doors down
on a snow day from school
shot his little sister,
no one to call timeout

to referee or even
shovel snow. The ambulance stuck.
All bored at home, we came outside
to pelt it with snowballs

like we were used to doing
with police cars, though, once better
informed, we did push it
out of the ruts.


I’m thinking school figures
in this too, as in
at least graduate before
you ruin your life

but patience was not the name
of any of our gangs or drugs
or even sports teams. Unrelated
to the black guys with guns

on their shopping trip for cash,
I was not shot in the store that day.
I mention black because we were all
white on our block and indiscriminate

with grudges and guns.


My distant lunar cousin
on a field trip from Detroit
for cash left a can
of Colt .45 on the counter—

A jokester side of him
he did not reveal to me
whilst waving a gun
and raising his voice

in an impolite way. The can
sweat a circle onto the counter.
Colt uses a horseshoe as its logo,
and a bucking horse to suggest

the alcoholic kick of malt liquor,
high on the arms list.
Its slogan it works every time
is subject to a realm of interpretation

of the approximate size of a bullet hole.
Solve for referent for it.
The Houston Colt .45s baseball team
had a big old gun on their uniforms

till they became the Astros and moved
indoors to get out of the heat.
Thus, the great invention of plastic grass.
I salute them with a can of America.


The Washington Bullets are gone, but not
the Houston Rockets. No sign of the Nuclear
Bombs, Hand Grenades, or Bazookas,
but the Axe Murderers have a long tradition

on their side. The police were from
the white side of 8 Mile Road like me.
They spat racial slurs at the crime scene,
loitering in the ancient air conditioning

racket of that tiny store crammed with liquor.
They told us they would not solve the crime
due to our proximity to 8 Mile and their
inability to tell one black man from another.

I had not peed my pants, and I was
inordinately proud of that. Alive,
I was mentally embellishing
for my girlfriend I’d see after work

with whom things were working
nearly every time. My boss, inordinately
proud of me for not caving in and handing
over the twenties and checks

hidden in an empty cigarette carton.
I’m looking for another place to use
inordinately. Perhaps Mr. Tubbs
was inordinately proud of his son

not killing him. Ray had good dope
but moved on to better dope
that made him a little edgy when
Mother Hubbard’s cupboard was bare.

His mother was hidden in an empty
cigarette carton somewhere. How
Mr. Tubbs got custody was beyond
the toxic limits of our lawn-fertilized

imaginations. We had an affinity for poison
on our street, where Patience was not a brand
of condoms, much less a virtue. Virtue
was a brand of cigarettes. Menthol or regular,

filtered or unfiltered, though of course
Marlboro was our big seller. Hard pack.
I don’t own a gun, but I’m related
to white people who do. Police cars

have cameras now. Warren cops haven’t
killed any unarmed black men
lately. As far as I know. My wallet
is full of qualifications.


Matches were free. I checked IDs, though
I was not legal myself. I dreamed
of my name in neon, not on wanted posters,
but we never told each other our dreams

so it didn’t much matter either way.
Colt .45 tasted like shit, even when
guzzled out of quart bottles.
My favorite combo was a quart of Colt

and a bottle of Ripple. A kind of surf
and turf or barf and scarf
for the sophisticated teenage set
inordinately fond of puking

then moving on. No big deal—
just the service charge for the buzz.
I could never look at Colt .45 again
after the robbery. They recovered

no fingerprints, and I recovered
my bravado with Patty
who smoked True Blues
and had patience with me

and knew a special occasion
when it hit us over the head
with a gun handle so we culminated
our relationship that night

in the damp grass of her parents’ yard
behind the blow-up kiddy pool
using a condom handed down
by my older brother, the traditional

Trojan, which was better than
pulling out, a reckless maneuver
that did not work with her next
boyfriend Laffy Stinkbomb.

His first name was Laffy.
Stinkbomb, just a term
of affection we used behind his back.
The kid they had must be 40 by now.

I don’t think they named him
Laffy Junior. I was very happy
Laffy Senior did not have a gun,
given his jealousy for me

having been his predecessor.
It’s like politics, I tried to explain one day
as he choked me against my locker
down by auto shop. Unlike Danny Krudbum,

who I pinned in 15 seconds
in the gym class wrestling tournament
who went on to shoot a business associate
in a start-up drug operation and dump his body

in a snow bank at the junior high.
I still could put someone in a cross-face cradle
if circumstances warranted, though I suspect
if Danny is out of prison and looking for me

he wouldn’t wait for the sadistic gym teacher
to blow the whistle. Sadistic gym teachers
were a dime a dozen back then, which must
make them a dollar a dozen, given inflation

and more sophisticated recreational
facilities. I had a chance to buy a handgun
out of Matt Schmitt’s Plymouth Fury’s trunk
in the parking lot by the abandoned tennis

courts behind Shaw Park-let, but it was like
with the prostitutes we gave a jump to
outside the Top Hat restaurant at 3 a.m.
on Christmas Eve one year who, given

the holiday spirit, offered to go down on us
for free. Both Matt and the hookers
were cheerful enough about my cowardice,
or, as I call it now, my judiciousness.

I had this crazy idea being a Daniels
on Rome Street meant I should have a gun
in case somebody mistook me for the other guy
whose name, no shit, was Tim, just one letter off.

My whole life, I’ve been one letter off, for better
or worse, but mostly for better, I like to think.
You might be able to take it out before you come,
but once you pull the trigger, there’s no reverse

gear, no matter how big the gun.
And if I sound particularly full of shit
at this point, just remember it works every time.
Over forty years ago, on the spot

where the Party Store once stood,
I followed the firefly of a gun
waving through the store in a mad
hysterical panic while the kid—not

much older than me, I’d say, though
the police might have doubted even
that much—used an inordinate number
of variations on the work fuck, given

the brevity of our conversation. If fuck
is the bullet of words, I’ll take the word
itself every time. Chaldeans own the store
now—Christian Arabs, a concept a lot

of those who drink America don’t quite
understand. I admire the computerized cash
register and bulletproof revolving counter.
99% of the party stores in Detroit

are owned by Chaldeans. The other 1%
are owned by members of the Patience MC.


When we were kids—me and Laffy
and the rest—the Canadian TV station
out of Windsor broadcast limbo contests
right after “Popeye” each weekday night.

In Canada, they could set the bar lower,
since a gun would just get in the way
of doing the limbo, while over in Detroit,
the wobbly bar for peace and justice

was as low as it could go, and people
were still tripping over it.


I don’t imagine people still look through
photo albums of mug shots
like my boss and I did at the station
the next day. Everything on computers

with electronic Wooly Willys adding
and subtracting hair. Despite slander
to the contrary, we were pretty good
at shooting each other up back

in the old neighborhood
after the riots in ’67 when we got guns
to protect us from imaginary gangs
of black kids gathering on the other side

of 8 Mile to attack us. We were stupid enough
to believe we had something they wanted
when we worked at the same factories
made the same money and drove the same

damn cars we all helped big. It didn’t take
much to make me gun shy for life,
but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have had
a powwow down on 8 Mile where some people

with charts and not a whole lot of patience
drew lines on the maps that went far afield
from 8 Mile Road with a bunch of Xs
on the map to show us where all the money

was really buried so that if we could all agree
on taking turns shoveling, we might dig up
something somewhere to share.


Laffy and Patty, grandparents? Who would’ve
thought? Is giving a jump to a couple cold hookers
in the Top Hat parking lot the best thing I ever did?
Or, wait, are they the ones who gave us a jump?

Ray Tubbs and his father never seemed shy
to me. Daylight on the street, they always seemed
ready to give you a smile beneath
their sunglasses, as if you knew

something and they knew something,
and the rest of the world beyond
Rome Street didn’t have a clue.
Ray’s sister Rhonda offered me

her virginity one sober afternoon
in their dark empty house. I wasn’t sure
if I was going to mention Rhonda
at all—hers was my first funeral

and she was my first kiss—
it seems like too much for this
story packed with lies, overlapping
with lies, like the narrow brick houses

on our narrower streets. Rhonda showed me
her father’s guns and offered me lemonade
homemade with one of those frozen cans
you emptied out and added a can of water to.

She was fourteen. We made up a lot
of our own definitions and nicknames,
bored with lighting up those free packs
of matches and tossing them in the street

where they burned out. If the guy had shot me
for not giving up our hiding place in the store.
I wouldn’t have gotten laid that night
though maybe someone would have lit

a candle for me in church before
heading out to the parking lot
to light up the Truth.
I can’t remember everything

but I do not have to, being white.
Or, did I offer Rhonda my virginity?


If we’d had a powwow on 8 Mile
maybe I would have run into
my black relative adopted
specifically for this poem

and he could have told me
what a patronizing mother-
fucker I was, and we could
have shaken hands and said,

Hard feelings, and been honest
on that unforgiving road.

Growing up,
we had no protection
from guns or story problems.
The math nearly killed us all.

Being white, I can joke about it:
sex and guns. The other Daniels
shooting his sister. They did not catch
the bad guy with the gun

he’s probably out there
wearing throw-back Colt .45
jerseys for old-timers night.
The kid shouted at me

where’s your fucking hiding place
because all white people
have hiding places, even making
less than minimum wage

at a corner store on the edge
of Detroit. It’s a luxury we have,
and he was out to collect
luxury tax. That doesn’t mean

I didn’t hate him. That’s the way
it’s supposed to work, hating
each other over nickels and dimes
when we’re all in the same damn zip code

and area code, the same class
with the same teachers flunking
our exams on Patience and Virtue.
The rust on our automobiles

the same color. I have no authority,
having stabbed myself
with my fake badge. Fake guns
aren’t so fake anymore.


For much of my life
I’ve resisted parking
between the yellow lines,
but not all of my life,

my life, my life. Sixty
years, and I’ve never
felt like I might be shot
again. At sixty, still allowed

to be shy
in all this white space.




JIM DANIELS' latest book is Rowing Inland, Wayne State University Press. Forthcoming books include Street Calligraphy and The Middle Ages. A native of Detroit, he is the Baker University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. His author page is:



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