Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor,
at 90 years of age
plans to die in bed.
His hundred million, more or less,
are spread around the world right now,
based on what the Wehrmacht used
to cut his friends to pieces;
developed first, he still insists,
to “save the motherland”.
Some have argued Mikhail merely
“bent the magazine”.
The Russian Federation’s found
these days it can do better than
the present it was given.
For sixty years and more, however,
the AK-47’s been
dependable and cheap
all up and down the continents.
An AK-47 holds
no permanent opinion.
It works and works and keeps on working.
When slung with style across the shoulder
it adds a splash of glamour.
Thirteen-year-olds can wear it well.
Its justice is a tidy cough;
its presence, an unspoken order.
They say he is a poet, too,
six books in all, right back to childhood.
He makes no special claims for them.
The name there in cyrillic script
is better known elsewhere.
In 1959 I drilled
and wheeled on summer asphalt
with what had once been used to storm
the cliffs at Anzac Cove—
same wood against the cheek when firing,
same movements with the bolt.
We liked our sessions on the range:
the pasted targets reappearing,
the smoothness of the breech,
the cordite smell, the cartridges,
and how the sergeant joked,
comparing 303s to women.
Always keep your good girl handy.
And clearly he was serious—
as was the bruise-back on the shoulder.
Two years on a fellow student
would walk across a hill and put
its barrel to his mouth.
Stuck neatly there between the wars,
we hoped our luck was holding out.
The 303 Lee Enfield
is in museums now—
or secret on remoter farms.
There’s probably an armory
that keeps its smell somewhere—
a memory of cleaning oil,
of flannelette and pull-through.
The 303 is not a woman,
for all its sweet ambivalence.
The men who used it on Kokoda
are gone, or almost gone, its weight
still balanced in their hands.