My Father Has a Gun

my father has a gun

when I was born, my father had already gone to war.

he was in Guinea-Bissau,

which used to be a Portuguese colony

or a province,

as our dictator Salazar used to call it

he was the Minister of the Portuguese Finances

and I wonder why most dictators

were finance ministers.

my father was always a silent person.

I always wondered why he was so silent,

although I love silent people.

– I am a silent person myself –

even if sometimes I speak too much,

I think that I am still silent,
even when I speak.

that is why I decided to create this piece
to give him a voice

although I still want him to be silent

but to be silent without being invisible

my father went to war in 1961
he told me that he traveled by ship to the war
in Guinea-Bissau

he was the skipper

my father never told me what happened there
he never speaks about it

but I grew up
seeing pictures in my family album

that show black people amongst the white

or black people
amongst the black ones

they were considered less civilized
mainly because they were poor

and the industrial revolution had not arrived there

it was the industrial revolution itself
which justified the war (in Africa)

when my father returned from the war,
he brought two things with him:

a monkey and a gun

the monkey died

the gun is still at our place in Portugal

I was always a bit afraid of the gun
and also of my father because I knew that he had the gun

I always wondered why he kept the gun

I asked myself if the gun:

a) helped him feel protected
b) was to be used in an emergency
c) was an object of aesthetic value
d) was a memory
e) was an affectation, bred through excessive exposure to American movies
f) was a symbol of power

I always found something scary about guns
not because they kill
– I was able to deal with that –
but because blood comes out of people
when guns are used

I apologize if this sounds very childish
but I cannot stand the sight of blood

the truth is that I grew up with a gun in my house
and a silent father
and I thought that these two elements were somehow associated

in a perverse way

I used to think to myself, either

a) my father has a gun and is silent
because he went to war and it made him silent.


b) my father has a gun and that gun, in some way, silences him

I was only aware of this last possibility later in life
when I had to deal with something called »death.«

when my mother died,
I returned to the idea of my father and the gun inhabiting the same space.

my father and his gun, together
and what can be achieved with a gun

that was the moment when I understood the reason why my father is silent
it’s not that he cannot speak
but he deals with an inherent fragility

he cannot speak
he cannot use the gun
that would be too much for him

do you know what I mean?

I must not fear these three events coming together;
my father has a gun, my mother died,
and they are alone

the silence of my father rips him from his actions

thus, a gun is not a gun
because he is silent

it was only recently that I discovered that
actually the gun does not work

it’s just an object
a prop

that makes him feel comfortable

I wonder for how long was I punishing myself with this inquiry:
why did my father and a gun come together?

it is just a prop
nevertheless, he needs it
he has that gun

and he is still a silent man

he lived silently throughout his life

now that he is fading,
I want to rescue him from the gun and silence,
all in one

but, as I said, I like that my father is silent, in terms that I cannot yet fully understand.

silence does not mean death.

my father is not the only person who has a gun

many people have guns

many people kill with or without guns

animals and things

and all of that can be perceived as survival

once I bought a book from the »rifle companies,« from the period of the Portuguese dictatorship. the title reads »rules for the training of the combat bayonet. first part. united order.«

»first part. united order« is quite a thing

the book is composed of rules on how to rifle, group behavior, ethics, and technical issues.

the principles are quite striking:

»the man should correct his own actions, by himself, after listening to the remarks of the instructor, who should never touch him, unless in very exceptional cases«

thus, to touch was not allowed, although in some cases, it would seem that they actually had more freedom of expression and movement than we have now

soldiers could touch soldiers, in an informal context, without any sexual or gender connotation

but, men from this generation would never touch their own babies
as babies are half of a formed thing

the book describes very precise behavior rules:

»the squad establishes the fundamental unity of the united order. Rigor, sense of discipline, and uniformity of group are only possible in the higher grades if they are achieved in the squad«

»the united order is used to develop and keep the subordination spirit, the sense of cohesion and the habit of order and punctuality – elements which are the basis of the military discipline. in order to achieve this goal, it is necessary to obtain energy and precision on the group movements«

thus, I wonder if this group spirit silences you in the long run
traps you in an implicit agreement, so that if you speak,
you will betray the memory of all who were there

or if you just feel ashamed for having lived through that

or even if speaking means living it all again

soldiers who would volunteer for the army were once very young boys,
many of them came from rural areas in the country.

sometimes, going to the army is a way of improving their lives

that was not the case for my father, as he was obliged to go to war

but it is true that going to war when you are young,

inevitably leads to some degree of brainwashing

makes you silent and full of thoughts
that you will never understand

you look back
and you ask yourself what happened when you were so young
when you were unaware of what was going on

that is why I don’t like nations
because they come out with this ideology connected with space

I believe in freedom,
all the rest is an historic fiction
an appropriation of land and time, fueled by ambition

my father went to war
before I was born

afterward he met my mother and they got married

my mother had a twin sister

before dating my father,
my mother had dated the husband of my aunt, her twin sister

my father and my uncle – the husband of my mother’s twin sister – went to the war together
they were on the same ship
the ship that took them to the war

my uncle is not silent
they – my father and my uncle – speak about the war

but they only say trivialities
– like how the ship was, and what songs they sung
and how furious they were

but they were still young
so there was joy in everything that they did
the joy of being young

the war is still silent
my father is more silent than my uncle

they are both silent when it comes to the war

the war ate more silence from my father
– when I say silence, I mean good silence,
the one in which you did not need to speak.

the other one does not work, because it is a fear-silence,
it is poisoned with something that is not silence

it is fear, as I said.

my mother and her twin sister were identical

my mother dated both my father and my aunt’s husband,
before the two had met

two twin sisters can be identical people
identical people are part of life

and we are a family now
we have been one, for quite a while now

my father still has a broken gun
it is fading with him
and the silence taken from the war

silence eats the memory
the gun eats the silence

the war comes after and before all of this