Monday, October 18, 2010

The census-taker crosses the desert

"We are practical," he says,
"for each thing there is a reasonable measure.
Take the desert--of sand
so many square miles; of sky
so many degrees;
the winds, arriving in the cities
at the end of the day can be recorded.
When we stop moving
after the animals have fed and watered
and it grows cool, we are still
taking stock: in the darkness we find the edges of a raft
we lie down on, looking up
or we imagine driftwood, or movement, the pitch and roll
of the dunes we'll walk tomorrow
beside the camels."

He sleeps, and this imagined journey
becomes mine: what I have
walled up in bone, the future's
ruins of oddly-shaped calcium and optimism:

A thousand incidental moments; stuck
at work; saying "thank you"
and being handed a receipt;
opening a door in the morning,
seeing light.

a handful of things I return to:
the arc I traced daily
between the top step of the porch
and the packed dirt my bare feet landed on;
the ride home at night from a lover's house,
skin buzzing like it wasn't sure where to be;
my father practicing Torah after dinner
the smell of bread and candles lingering
in the room.

Now, when I think of him, the census-taker
is an abstraction, an abacus made flesh,
clicking beads from side to side
for grains of sand, for animals,
for my father and me--for everything
of the same stock.

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