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Terms of Service

The Signed agrees to breath, to the lungs’ soggy bellows.

To night’s eight-hour wake, the little deaths of sleeping-with.

To drink. To eat at predictable intervals.

And grow hair. And grow wiser. And gimpy. And old.

The Signed agrees to like ice cream. To unfold
himself at dawn for coffee in the nook.

To possess a collection of books, gold-embossed
by respected associations.

The Signed shall keep his firearms in a discreet location.
Shall wait for the guests to leave to weep.
Shall reflect serenely each dusk on his stoop
when the sun splashes rorschachs on the roadside gravel.

Should the Signed become “anxious,” “unhappy,” or “rattled”;
should his service be tampered with or otherwise interrupted
by means including but not limited to “mugging,”
“meningitis,” “advanced interrogation,” or having his heart
“plucked and chewed like a fig by Roxanne,”

the Signed shall strive to remain in compliance
with his duties, to venture bravely forward, to understand
that, in total concordance with the contracting Company,

some people may depart without notice,
packing their things in the night,
leaving only the ring on the windowsill.

Furthermore should the Signed’s father choke in his sleep,
should his brother spoon down a brown bottle of pills,
should his mother succumb to the village of tumors
thatching their damp huts inside her,

the Signed shall hold harmless said Company
for adjusting the Terms of the Family Plan.

As a courtesy in such cases the Company may reveal itself
through flocks of oddly-colored birds that land
to hold parliament in the backyard oak,
or doors slamming—unprovoked—
at a meaningful hour of night.

The Company shall not be held liable
should the Signed fail to recognize said communications.

In return for the Signed’s full cooperation,
the Company consents to buoy the Signed
from his dreams each morning until such time
as it deems this contract has been fulfilled.

When it comes to pass that the Signed is killed
or his heart stutters out like a wind-up toy,
it shall be understood that the Signed is owed
no resigned joy, no otherworldly will,
no light-beam propped on a long bank of clouds.

Though such comforts, if provided
by the Signed, shall be allowed.
Posted 09/10/11
"Terms of Service" first appeared in HARVARD REVIEW n.40, 2011
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