from Universe by Diana Hamilton

BOMB 123 Spring 2013
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If you stop me
from cutting
your hair,
there is a sense
in which
you are interfering.

But, since you are entitled
to determine
whether I cut your hair
or not, you do not
wrong me.

I make your trip to the store a waste.

I buy the last quart of milk
before you
get there.

But, this interference is not wrong
    to you.
You wasted your efforts.
I wrong you
if I interfere with your person—
pushing you out of the way as you
reach for the milk.

If I force you to work
for me
I wrong you.

In the same way, I wrong you
if I take something
that belongs to you.

The bear-baiter does not really imagine
what it is like to be a bear.
If he did, he would think
and act differently.

If the thing that I take is something you
have made.

I wrong you
if I take your property
even if it costs you
no effort
to acquire it.

The claim that I have also taken
your effort
adds nothing.

Why don’t we get together
and have me offer to cut your hair,
and you accept my offer.

If I take your property
and you like it,
I wrong you.

Unless you like it
and also consent to it,
I cannot take your property,
though I can take your effort,
and I can cut
your hair.

You force me
to cut your hair,
while begging me
to stop
cutting your hair.

We often wrong each other.
Certain facts about the past
can capture better the fact
that in failing to act in certain ways
we wrong certain individuals.

A man keeps his hat on in someone
    else’s house.
He pushes another man out of his way.

said in a burning house.

If I were the superior
of a religious order
whose rule ordained
the complete
abnegation of all
desires, I could not
say to a novice
“If you have a desire to go to the largest
    grocer in Oxford, go to Grimbly
for this would be contrary to the rule.
But I might very well say
“If you want to go to the largest grocer
    in Oxford, go to Grimbly Hughes”
for this would simply be intended
to convey a piece of information
that the largest grocer
is Grimbly Hughes.

This animal is a mule.
This animal is barren.

Consent can be withdrawn
in the middle of the interaction
that was consented to.

If I have consented to have you
cut my hair
and change my mind
partway through,
you must stop.
There are no residual legal consequences.

If I did not violate the terms of your
You, rather than I, are responsible
for the odd appearance that results.

It is rude to wear flannels
at a formal dinner party,
but merely not done
to wear a dinner jacket
for tennis.

If I ask you for permission
to cut your hair
or pitch my tent
on your land

you are entitled to accept
or reject
my offer.

It seems odd to describe this
as an enlargement
of your freedom.

Before I asked, you were entitled
to decide
who would touch you
and what would happen
on your land.

You still have that right.

What you have
as a result
of my offer
is just the entitlement
to take up
the offer.

That is not yet a new right
that you have,
but rather a feature
of the context
in which you chose,
and I do not wrong you
in any way
if I change
the context
by withdrawing
my offer
before you—
before you have accepted it.

But maybe I do wrong you.
If so, I apologize.
If we could talk together—
our children’s future, money
    agreements, etc.—
everything would be all right.
But as we can’t,

I say
“I am sitting on a pile of hay.”

Fit a latch to the door.

I wrong you?
alas! I wrong you not,—
I wish I did.

I can cut your hair
or pitch my tent
without wronging you.

I bring as evidence
of my sitting on hay
the fact that the object I am sitting on
has four wooden legs
and a hard wooden back.

I decide not to resist
when you reach for my hair.

I no longer physically exclude anything.

Supply and fit to door mortise dead latch
and plastic knob furniture.

If I cut your hair
I might just as well have cut somebody
    else’s hair,
or you have had someone else
cut yours.

I shall hardly be described as thinking
even mistakenly
that I am sitting on a pile of hay.

If I shout loud enough to startle you
when you stand on the edge of a cliff
I did not blow you over.


Diana Hamilton is the author of Okay, Okay (Truck Books, 2012). She was the runner-up for BOMB’s 2012 Poetry Contest judged by Ben Lerner.

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Originally published in

BOMB 123, Spring 2013

Featuring interviews with Verne Dawson and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Stanley Whitney, Katrín Sigurdardóttir, Federico León, Stan Allen, Rachel Kushner, Enrique Vila-Matas, and Coleen Fitzgibbon. 

Read the issue
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