AK-47; 303


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,

Mikhail Kalashnikov;

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.


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