Unwritten Rule

There’s a rope between me and the edge of the dock,

there to keep people from falling or jumping in.

The water is cold, choppy, deep, and far below,

it would be easy to drown, but I would not let gravity win.

The rope is only tied high enough

to make its unspoken meaning clear.

“There will be no jumping, diving, or even sitting

on the sun-warmed edge of the pier.”

Even behind the rope, I can feel the cold rising,

fighting against the heat the sun sends beating down.

I want to get closer, let the breeze wipe sweat from my brow,

but an old, fraying rope says I am not allowed.

A seagull swoops down, stealing my coveted spot,

and making me feel like a fool.

Why stand behind this unenforced rope,

when I could be sitting somewhere nice and cool?

There is no one around to stop me…

only my need to follow every unwritten rule.

No one is watching me hesitate.

Only the seagull will witness whether my fears abate;

if I’ll sit and listen to harbor sing,

or be defeated by a salty piece of string.

I take a breath. I lift my foot.

The seagull moves as if my intent is understood.

But in the end, I turn away…

I can’t help it – I was taught to be good.

Jennifer Leigh Kiefer (she/they) is a semi-nomadic writer and stage manager currently based out of Hartford, CT.  Previous work can be seen in Café Lit, Rat’s Ass Review, Children, Churches, and Daddies and Academy of the Heart and Mind.  Find more of her work at www.jenniferleighkiefer.com or on Instagram @jenniferleighkiefer