19 pages 38 minutes read

Danez Smith

It won’t be a bullet

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2017

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Poem Analysis

Analysis: “it won’t be a bullet”

“it won’t be a bullet” juxtaposes two kinds of death: the kind the speaker postulates they will have, wasting away under medical care, and the kind that they say they will not experience from a bullet. Although the speaker does not specify it directly, it is possible they are describing a death from HIV/AIDs, which the author of the poem had just been diagnosed with at the time of writing this piece.

Throughout the poem, the speaker sets up a binary; there are those who die from a bullet, and there are those who die from something other than a bullet. The speaker is not only talking about their personal death but also about the ways in which people who look like them and who identify as part of the African American and Queer communities are likely to die. There are other ways that people die outside of this binary, but by drawing this stark contrast, the speaker emphasizes these options as being the two most expected ways and the two ways that primarily concern them.

Although the poem is about dying, which is a sad topic, Smith says “thank god” in Line 2. They express gratitude not for death itself, but for the fact that they will get the better of the two likely deaths.