For readers unaccustomed to guns around the house, this is quite a disturbing poem; Feaver writes about that strangeness becoming normal and the poem develops into a kind of celebration.
It is incongruity that opens the poem with a short one and half line stanza that juxtaposes the threat of ‘a gun’ with the domesticity of ‘a house’ and focuses on the resultant ‘change’, leaving the question open of the type of change.
That alien quality of the weapon is continued when the details of it, with ‘grainy polished wood stock’ and ‘long metal barrel’ which emphasise its threat, are juxtaposed with ‘the kitchen table’ with its ‘green-checked cloth.’ That uncomfortable contrast between the lexis of menace and the lexis of comfort is highlighted in the simile ‘like something dead’ and the ‘grey shadow’ cast by the gun, both literal and metaphoric.
The third stanza reduces the tension and the menace, with references to ‘just practice’ and tin targets that dangle like playthings on ‘orange strings’ in ‘the garden’. But Feaver shifts the mood suddenly with the emphatic final word of the penultimate line, the monosyllabic ‘shot’, before the assassin-like precision of ‘clean through the head.’
From there, the pace of the poem increases, full of references to death and violence. The verbs applied to the ‘creatures’ are in the past tense and their number is subtly accentuated by the alliteration of ‘fridge fills’. The shooter becomes monstrous, with hands which ‘reek’, a verb suggesting an awful stench, which is confirmed by the sickly combination of ‘gun oil’ and ‘entrails’. Similarly, ‘trample’ suggests careless violence and the alliterative ‘fur and feathers’, like the earlier generic noun ‘creatures’, imply a lack of discrimination. Yet Feaver introduces another jarring shift – among this carnage, he has ‘a spring’ in his ‘step’. This sense of new life is confirmed in the simile ‘like when sex was fresh’, which paradoxically connects death with vigour and new life. This paradox is pushed further with the provocative single-line stanza:
‘A gun brings a house alive.’
This bringing together of death and life is the poem’s conclusion. Having been a detached observer through the poem, the speaker becomes an accomplice, not only ‘cooking’ and ‘tasting’ but explicitly participating in butchery by ‘jointing/ and slicing’. Not only that, she is ‘excited’. The final image is a pagan one, of ‘the King of Death’, but as with the winter solstice, death is a necessary part of the life cycle, and is followed by new life and spring joy. The ‘mouth’ may be ‘black’, but out of it come ‘sprouting golden crocuses’, a vibrant celebration of new life.
Listen to Vicki Feaver commenting on and reading the poem.