BULLET PARTS by Adrian Matejka

/ / Issue 18

Primer (Brass + Lead)

The bullet base is made from the kind of brass that otherwise 
would have been a classroom doorknob or cheap ring at one 
of those prequarantine gathering places with games of chance 
& lights that surprise & delight. Or molded into new French 
horns for the underfunded youth band—no solos for the hornists, 
but they are still vital to the orchestra. At the center of the brass 
base: an igniter made out of lead. An igniter is only good at exploding,
but the lead might have scratched its love in meticulous notes 
with old-time penmanship. Or become part of the paint behind 
a Periodic Table of Elements in the back of a public-school 
classroom: Pb, atomic number 82. It’s right there, lining Roman 
aqueducts & wine vats at the other end of the empire. It’s right 
there, holding reactors & their radiations close as a friend in need. 
Walkman batteries running out in the middle of a slow jam again—
the voices get thicker & deeper in the lead correction. In some other 
life, the primer probably would have gone in another direction. 

Propellant (Gunpowder or Cordite) 

Gunpowder, like poetry, 
was mistaken for an immortality 

potion. Poetry, like gunpowder 
was first used to light up 

the sky with every color outside 
a summer window. 700 AD, 

& the first propellant welcomed 
the new year with combustible  

surprise & eye-covering brightness.
Gunpowder: easily mistaken  

for medicine, raising dragons 
& open-palmed stars bird-level 

in the sky while cordite can’t be 
anything other than the killer 

it was mixed to be. Since 1889,
nitrocellulose, nitroglycerine, 

& petroleum jelly—a murderous 
clique. Cordite is only good for killing. 

Since 1889, cordite has made killing 
safer & easier for the red-faced killers.  

Case (Brass or Steel)

Brass again, wishing to be a lost key or a better Victorian decoration. Brass again, wanting 
to alloy in a gentle fashion. Steel, too, taken from ship sides or the skeletons of skyscrapers. 
Steel can be a fist-bumped architecture, full of the empty seats fans used to sit in. Or car bumpers
dented in claustrophobia. The STOP sign nobody slows down for when cops aren’t around at the
fork in the road.  Forks in the drawers of the local establishments that only serve take out now &
butter knives for the drunken disagreements, past & future. Nerves steeled by food & beer. Abs
of steel, too, in the old commercials on the TV in the corner. 

Bullet (Lead + Alloy) 

Lead in the belly, copper 
& nickel skin in abundance 
each year. 10 billion bullets 

made in the U.S.A. each 
year. Enough bullets to kill 
most of us twice each year. 

The bullet hits 3 times 
faster than we can hear 
its concussion. The bullet 

breaks the air with its 2,182-
mph admission. The bullet 
is a grim onomatopoeia 

for itself. The bullet is 
a slim allegory for a gun 
happy nation & its attendant 

segregations. Lead belly, 
wrapped in the grinning 
freedom amendment: 

the gun is always more 
important than the people 
in front of it as the antagonists 

tell us. & here we are again: 
so many black women 
& black men in front of it.