Charles Whitman’s Insides: A Collection

Normally I don’t like to give a preface to my poems. People will interpret things however they like and I don’t want to sway anything. But in this case, I just want to add a disclaimer that these poems were an old college assignment to write from the point of view of someone else. I wanted to challenge myself to try and understand someone I did not like. Hence this series, from the perspective of University of Texas Tower sniper, Charles Whitman, circa 1966.

at the beginning
i’m not a man you’re going to want to understand.
even after you’ve understood me.
i sleep less and less as time leaves more to hate.
i am a loving husband because i take the garbage out and kiss my wife.
i kissed then killed my wife, and after, my mother.
i’ve been prepared to die ever since they loved me in this kind of world.

i discovered that the world is flat.

when you fall off you’re gone so i’ll never have to kill them again.
killing is easier of an act than giving myself to sleep each night.
in the marines i learned to sharp shoot—it’s what i’m good at.
i enlisted, saw the soul of guantanamo; i was the shadow of a man.
(a shadow is a soul that sleeps and sleeps.)
when i woke up forever the marines and the university reduced me in rank
because i stopped fighting for their dreams.
doctors peered into my charts, into tunnels with little light, smiled politely;
i watched them make their human gestures in their yellow-lit worlds.

something had gone terribly wrong inside of me.

you won’t know until i’ve sliced that world open with razor steady aim.
the doctors will prove my theory was right.
but it’s not my fault.
they’ll say it’s like a gun misfired in my brain to make it so i can’t tell you right
from wrong.

in the preparation
i can’t tell you right from wrong in a way that would make you feel safe
under your loose dreams.
i understand right to be a rifle shot at the long end of a pause.
i understand wrong to be my father’s fist blurred against my mother’s body.
neither makes it any easier to want to save a life.
murder is a word invented by the scared to scare others on cold nights and in dark alleyways, alone.
but you are more dangerous when you are together, so insistent on living.

hey you, across that stretch of grass, i’m coming towards you now
just so you can see another face.

what would your faces look like from above,
if i couldn’t read brown eyes from gray or smooth cheeks from forgotten shaves?
i can’t feel right in the curve of my wife’s body or wrong in the curve of a trigger.
same way you can’t tell a gaping mouth from a bullet hole from way up high.

from the tower
from way up high, i can’t tell you the exact weather.
clouds do not have shapes.
i packed a sawed off shotgun, 35-caliber rifles, lunch.
i bludgeoned the receptionist and shot at a family.
first the child spilling forwards and i won’t know who lived or died.
i had enough bullets for each of them to cradle, in their mouths or in their stomachs.
but i’ll never know what a hospital bed feels like.
what happens when your thoughts start sleeping but your mind sleepwalks?
my fingers pulse but i can’t feel my heartbeat;

some parts of my body are shut off for better causes.

when i look over the edge of the tower, i don’t see, but i know where to aim.
i miss many times but many times you can be sure i’ve hit.
you’ll know my misses still, years later by pock marks against the old concrete. you’ll know where i’ve hit from the spaces where there should be more bullet holes.

there should be more bullet holes but students are finding
trees where they never thought to look for nature before.
i see you there behind tree bark and flagpoles;
i shoot to kill.
police officers wail at me skyward like they’re cursing to god.

i won’t hear you so i won’t judge you.

they must think there’s an army of people up here.
would just one set of eyes, one pair of hands, be easier to stomach than a hundred?

bodies slumped over now sleeping below me,
ninety-five degree heat swimming through their ears.
i know how it looks.

under the bodies
i know how it looks, but killing is not something i want to do,
it’s just something i’m doing in my head.
i hope that’s clear inside these thin bullet sprays.
i hear men approach me.
they crawl like babies rattling guns.
so much is born today.
they shoot to kill.
but i know what it’s like to die already.
spasms up through my spine before i melt underneath that sun-peeled sky.
you’ll think it’s about glory or body count.
you’ll look at my yearbook picture in the newspaper
with your fists balled up and your mouths heaving groans.

you’ll care about me more than you want to.

doctors will say i had a special cancer that made me ‘aggressive.’
my disease killed many and it did not kill me.
but when you spit on my grave,

don’t think i’m not sorry that it didn’t get me first.

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