Ken Hines: “Expiration Date”

Expiration Date 

In the dream we all had one. Some were subtle, 
the back of an earlobe, the sole of your foot. Pale 
digits in a delicate Roman font. Others more brazen, 
a numeric ring on a middle finger. Nobody got  
to choose. It was the first thing new moms checked  
after counting fingers and toes, tiny numbers and dashes  
in folds of still damp skin. No point trying to get rid  of 
them. Like the chemistry teacher who scrubbed  her skin 
raw with a concoction boiled up in the lab.  Her 
tattoo-artist boyfriend, undeterred,  
wielded his needle magic to give her a few more years.  
But the merciless 2022 was still there. Many  
tried to ignore it, the way third graders in July 
refuse to think about September. A few made it into a party,  
their birthday’s morbid cousin, where black balloons had a 
whole new meaning. 
                                               Later I wondered if they  
were any better off, those people with indelible dates,  
taking their personal time bombs with them as they  
went about their lives. At least they were never  
surprised by death, foretold as it was from the start.  No phone 
calls that drop you to your knees. But you’d  still have to face 
the appointed date, wouldn’t you? Alone  in your den, blinds 
shut tight, listless ceiling fan stirring above.  Feeling the 
seconds squeeze through you like cigarette smoke  through a 
menthol filter. Realizing as you wait—the end is still the end 
even when you know its schedule. 

About the Author: A 2021 Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, Ken Hines has written poems that appear in AIOTBVita Poetica, Ekphrastic ReviewPsaltery & Lyre and other magazines. His poem “Driving Test” won the Third Wednesday Journal Annual Poetry Prize. All this scribbling takes place in Richmond, Virginia.

Image Credit: Reijer Stolk “Anatomical study of the neck, arm and leg muscles of a man” Public Domain image courtesy of Artvee

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