Because even after you put death aside—keeping in your sights not Oswald’s ruptured gut, but the very idea of the gun beginning to grow, becoming a new kind of try-me, a sure bet he could grip, strap to his thigh, flaunt to protect the earnings of his half-assed strippers and ventriloquist acts and hustled bottles of gut rot champagne and how, once he had a buddy cop score it from Ray’s (bada boom, saving him eighteen bucks), the Colt bloomed from a theory of back-up to an actual sweet heft in his hands; or how, on that particular day, after he parked the Olds and cooed a goodbye to Sheba, his dachshund, his sugar, his baby, he was perhaps thinking less about his wad of cash than words like hero, wrist-slap, crown as he strode down the ramp off Main, then mingled incognito with the press, ready to gawk at the man who shot JFK, but also beginning to feel that tug on his sleeve, beginning to realize he could wring some use from his grief after all, unlike everyone else at home “glued to the tube,” as we’d later say, hoping to glimpse a few handcuffed steps, not knowing they were moments away from watching the first ever broadcast death, which truth be told was not much more than a procession of Stetsons, white shirts and ties that became an arm-cocked lunge and a one-off bang followed by the camera herky-jerky showing Oswald disappearing into a sea of suits; or how it would take the next day’s freeze-framed money shot to let the moment chime beyond that first fleeting shock, beyond the image we’ve seen and seen again, where Oswald’s lips are forever locked on that lopsided O that tells us precisely nothing about death or what it means to have a bullet burrow into the lower lateral chest wall at the precise moment the shutter is clicked by Robert Jackson, the man who began banking on the Pulitzer even as the image first swam into view in its chemical bath, forever turning what had already been printed by the rival Dallas Morning News into a mere snapshot, a near-miss, an also-there, given how the payoff we crave was still in the split-second offing; or how the gun, decades later, let loose from the courts, was auctioned to Anthony Pugliese III, who first fingered his $220,000 prize through a Crown Royal sack passed to him beneath a table in Little Italy; or how the murder weapon became, for Pugliese, a notch in the belt, a trophy, a claim, one more bit of memorabilia he owned, like Indiana Jones’s prop bullwhip, or the hat worn by the dissolving witch during Oz’s what-a-world-what-a-world scene; or how the gun became something of a celebrity, appearing on Larry King Live like some come-back actor hawking a new book; or, even more, how the Colt became a money-making machine, with Pugliese firing it into his swimming pool, then gathering the deep-end bounty and mounting each bullet in a frame along with an 8 x 10 of Oswald being shot, signed by two of the escorting detectives and accompanied by a decree that confirms it is indeed a relic from “The Most Famous Gun in the World;” or how, years later, Jack’s brother Earl agreed to fire off some rounds as well (“Maybe 63?” Pugliese once joked), this time into a barrel brimming with hose water because why not and, besides, Earl’s bankable Ruby DNA could reap even more for each framed-bullet sale; or how the gun in a bank vault was forgotten for years after its owner became entrenched in a plan to convert 27,000 acres of Florida real estate near Yeehaw Junction into “Destiny,” a hooked-on-Green housing development with its “Come to Your Destiny” slogan and intravenous vitamin injections and planned kibosh on anything but organic food, a place “where kids can ride their bikes down the sidewalks and people can sit out on their front porch,” all of which unraveled after Pugliese was accused of defrauding his partner, a co-founder of Subway sandwiches, of just over a million bucks, then funneling the cash for personal use, including an $11,000 moat-chiller, which is, it turns out, exactly what the name implies: a device that chills the moat around one’s home—what do you make of America then?

Matt Donovan is the author of the collection of essays, A Cloud of Unusual Size and Shape: Meditations on Ruin and Redemption, as well as two collections of poetry – Vellum and Rapture & the Big Bam. He is the recipient of a Rome Prize in Literature, a Whiting Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Creative Capital Grant, an NEA Fellowship, and the Larry Levis Reading Prize. Donovan is currently writing a book about guns in the United States, and collaborating on the chamber opera Inheritance about the life of Sarah Winchester.

Photo by Lauren Crux