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When Does The Sentence Really End


johansen wanted cigarettes

so I gave him the change I had

actually more than he needed

then he proceeded to tell me

that although he lived on the street

he was an intelligent man

and had a degree from berkeley

and all of the time that he spoke

i looked straight into his blue eyes

until he noticed my notebook

and my chickenscratch handwriting

which he said was very unique

but his was more interesting

so he showed me by writing down

the name of the supreme court case

gideon vs. wainwright” in

my notebook using my grey pen

then i asked him about the case

and he said that it had to do with

the competent and effective

assistance of counsel” and then

he told me that he killed a man

and that he was from virginia

and his wife married a preacher

and i looked into his blue eyes

knowing that i somehow liked him

and the way he told his story

about how his wife got the home

and how he received the big house

like ten years in the state prison

then the conversation turned to

the writ of habeas corpus”

and how lincoln suspended it

during the war between the states

but how now it’s in full effect

and they can’t lock you up without

bringing your body into court

to charge your ass with an offense

misdemeanor or felony

and johansen meant what he said

about the mistakes that he made

and he considered getting caught

and losing his wife the biggest

but was more on his mind was

cigarettes and why the police

stopped their cruiser and fingered him

and told him to get down the street

while he was sharing my table

on a morning we were supposed

to be free in america



[Originally, this poem appeared in the author’s 1995 MFA thesis from Naropa University. Used by permission of the overseer of the author’s papers at the University of Rhode Island. Originally published in NHS 2013, http://www.poetspath.com/napalm/_special_edition_nhs_2013/.]