Kathy Hartley ≈ Two Poems



The First Time


My hands are shaking. It’s not a gun

but it’ll look like one.

Do I look dangerous?  Stare

in a shop window…  Hell no…

look like a kid, sweating, scared, stupid…

I pull the hat down low.

Try to remember she’ll be as scared as me.

It doesn’t help.

I touch the note in my pocket:



Stay calm!  I breathe the last breath just outside the door,

chest so tight it sounds like paper tearing.

God!  There’s a line up.

I can’t stand in line…I’ll piss my pants…

Forget it.  Get a beer

with my last curled dollar.

But then what…streets are bloody cold,

gut aches, got nothing left…

Some woman, stinking of perfume,

moves away

and a teller smiles…at me!

My stomach turns over.

I don’t want to do this,

you look like a nice kid, gentle,

could be my little sister.

Pain slices through me at the thought

of her, what she would say if she knew.

I slap the note down, she looks at me

like a rabbit I shot once…only half dead

it stared at me, just waiting, then

I looked away and moved my knife;

it screamed and the blood burned

all over my hands and over the fur.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper.

And I am, but I can’t go back to that bloody farm,

can’t watch my father kill himself

over a stretch of prairie so dry and dead

it sucks his life away

with every breathe.

The silence of the land so choking

I can’t breathe back there. My mother,

frail as a cattail that’s rotting in the spring,

crying all the time.

My little golden sister

the only one I miss.

I put my hands inside my jacket,

threatening.  I look straight at her

both of us too scared to move

then she dips her head,

a tumble of blonde

covers half her face.

Real quiet, she puts it on the counter:

bundles of it!  Jesus!

Tied with paper bands

and the smell of it…fresh ink

and…something else…money!

Nothing else

smells like it.

Hurry up, I tell her.

She won’t look up but stops and I know

that’s all

but I know she hasn’t touched the alarm.

Thanks, I whisper, gagging on excitement.

I grab the cash,

a new life,

and punch it deep in the pockets

of the army jacket I stole.

Quick look around,

people stare but nobody moves.

It’s like I’ve stopped the world…

And then

I’m running,

trying to hear

sirens over the howl

of my breath.

Where’re the cops?

It can’t be this easy!

My face is dripping.

I’m laughing.

I oughtta be dead on that floor right now,

with red fire burning out of me,

running across to her shoes,

to the walls, out the door.

I see myself staring at the ceiling

with dead eyes; I feel what it’s like to be dead.

I’m shaking, gut scared…

but no knife falls.

I spin a corner into the alley.

I’m choking on the fear

and the fire,

the hope

and the dream.

Know there’s a damn good chance

they’ll track me down;

know the horror of what waits

if they do but… right now

Right now

I am




Unknown Anniversary


She took meticulous note of dates as they winged past
in the revolving of the year.
Significant dates and minor, marking each event
in which she, or one she loved, had taken a part.

She began as she began with her own birthday,
then, filling her heart as her calendar filled
with joys and sorrows, births and deaths,
and all the other bookmarks of a life.

But then one day, quite suddenly, pen poised above the page
the realization struck a stunning blow
that there was yet an unknown anniversary;
a date of greater import than almost all of those
that filled the calendar blocks like bees in a bed of roses.

A date so silent, sly, unseen,
which lay among the other days
giving no sign nor hint when each and every year
she winged past the blackened square all unaware.

The date of her own death was there somewhere…
perhaps between pine scented Christmas
and champagne bubbles of the new year;
perhaps in the bird song days of spring
or a hot summer afternoon when the bees drifted lazily,
sated with pollen, among the drowsy daffodils
or perhaps a bonfire scented autumn night
when stars sprinkled the sky with silver dust.



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