The Pretty Red-Head

“O Sun it is the time for flaming judgment,”—Guillaume Apollinaire, “La Jolie Rousse”


Always I was misunderstanding
the words. Too many guns
in the air to be happy.
The news but a sour case
of pink eye with a crust.
I thought, or I hoped,
the tyrant they’d elected
wouldn’t last a year… Us
vs. Them. Them vs. Themselves.
Us vs. Us. I was deliberately mistranslating
Guillaume Apollinaire.
“Gentle People,” I wrote, “allow me
to ramble—if you’ll allow me
to ramble—the future isn’t
flags, but it isn’t art either.
Something more unreasonably human
needs to happen…” I went
on and on, vaporously. There
were too damn many guns. All
my favorite revolutionaries
were dead, and they were buried.
It had been this way for many years
already. The baby daughter
had grown into a lovely
young woman, bright and tall
and green as spring beans.
The rhetoric, on the other hand,
was ratcheting. The divisions
had been sewn and were continuing.
Anything without a message
we approved of was suspect—or
simply excluded—even though
we knew inclusion to be
the harder thing, requiring
that room be prepared in one’s life.
Somehow I was a part of the “we”
and also the “them” at the very same time.
I needed forgiveness for the sins
I knew I had committed, but also
for the ones I didn’t know
I’d committed, or that I’d committed
unintentionally. Intention’s
always been such a tricky defense,
since it’s largely a private thing
even when it’s declared. I rolled
or wheeled or rocked in my complicity.
I heard horsey sounds coming out
of my mouth. There were so many guns
in the blur of the republic. In my deliberate
mis-reading of Apollinaire, I wrote,
“You should all feel free to make fun
of me. 98% of the universe is darkness,
and I am a darkness even unto myself.
So many invisible clouds we do breathe.
I can’t see what I can’t say, and we
and them won’t let me. Please,
if you can, have pity on me.” It’s possible
maybe that none of this was so,
that I didn’t write any of this.
Or is that just the wishfullest
thinking by me? The vaporous
and lovely made their judgments
while I scrambled. You’d have called them
cold, I bet. But maybe we only ever give
what we get. No. I meant that
the other way. We get what we give.
Or at least some of us, but I get
tangled up in my head. I have
never liked conflict, competition,
or smoke. Nor rationalizing, justifying,
or qualifying love. “I don’t know what to do,”
I kept writing to myself. There was no way
to fix it, and “it” was ambiguous—ambiguous
at best. Mostly it was vague. The sun bled
into my mouth on the paper. Isolation
and ignorance ran among us and me.
“What are the heart’s possibilities,”
I now fully admit was a ruinous ending.
And “I am no one’s enemy. I can’t be,”
was even worse. I was a jammed-up gun
in the weeds. I’m sorry, dear daughter.
I’m sorry friends and family.
I was so completely, deliberately afraid.




Matt Hart. Photograph by Erika J. Allen

Matt Hart is the author of nine books of poems, including most recently Everything Breaking/for Good (2019) and The Obliterations (2019). A co-founder and the editor-in-chief of Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking & Light Industrial Safety, he plays in the band NEVERNEW and teaches at both the Art Academy of Cincinnati and in the Pacific Northwest College of Art’s low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing.



read next: Matt Hart, “Wilder Bluer Yonder


“The Pretty Red-Head” appeared in TLR: Contents May Shift (Summer, 2020)