Life Sentence

Remember when you lived by a single quote,
repeated most days
with a fundamentalist zeal,

little need to say more?
It was the plan, crystallizing your life.
Ambivalence was weakness.

Oh, it was revelation when it first arrived
like a dove of hope, and you held it
close to your chest, then got it tattooed on your arm:

what a marvel, the holy mess of days
branching into order,
allowing you to see through life’s tangled brush.

Then some alternate reckoning
disembarked from its dark boat
and undercut your truth,

and a wind blew in from the sea,
tossing the waves in the harbor,
and you felt a storm inside.

Oh, now two omens filled your rucksack,
the future cut open and glimmering,
and you began to feel like a wanderer.
 

Refrain

Somewhere, while you read this,
a scallop-edged sun
unhooks itself from the green lip of the world,
and an animal with two eyes watches.

Try not to be a dick.
Try not to be a fool.

Somewhere, while you read this,
a scallop-edged sun
unhooks itself from the green lip of the world,
and an animal with two eyes watches.

Don’t stare at the young woman’s breasts
on the bus, though she wears a push-up bra
and her cleavage is exposed.

A scallop-edged sun
unhooks itself from the green lip of the world.

You don’t need to ask her
about the book she’s reading
in order to start a conversation.

A scallop-edged sun unhooks itself.

She doesn’t need your help.
She doesn’t need you to explain things to her.

An animal with two eyes watches.

She doesn’t need anything
that your culture taught you
before she was born.
 

Winter

The frustration of the eighteen year old daughter
with her mother at the coffee shop
who apparently isn’t moving fast enough
so she shoves the cream in front of her mom
at the little side counter where they customize their drinks—

the mother with serene lines on her face, wearing
a colorful ski cap, out of which a graying, braided ponytail dangles;
the overly-intense daughter perhaps taking after her father,
whipping around the counter in quick, short steps
as if she is walking barefoot on snow,

her ire not directed at her mother alone
as she turns it on herself when she notices
where they keep the refill containers:
“It’s right in front of my face, Duh!”

And just when you want to strangle her
she says something to her mom
as her eyes bug out even more than usual
in the way she seems to address everyone,

and they laugh and hold each other
like best friends who are so close
you could mistake them for enemy powers
who have just signed a peace treaty.

They could heat an entire house
with that energy; they could fuel the world
with the enmity of their love.

Kenneth Hart

KENNETH HART teaches writing at New York University, and is Poetry Editor of The Florida Review. His poems have recently been published in Gulf Coast, New Ohio Review, The Burrow Press, Mead, and Kestrel. Hart's book, Uh Oh Time was selected by Mark Jarman as winner of the 2007 Anhinga Prize for Poetry.

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