Oct/Nov 2019 Poetry

Book of Numbers

by Rose Fairfield

Image courtesy of The British Library photostream

Book of Numbers

Worship existed before humans became its instrument.
Before the first congregation of burnt nostrils.
Before the people of Teotihuacan began sacrificing
each other on the Pyramid of the Moon.

Worship churned like an ocean shore backed into a corner
with whitewater breaking in on itself from all sides.
The archetype hanged in solitude until my bones
were fixed around it: One, two, three, four.

It sloshed within my young chest,
stumbling me toward
bumble bees, honey buns, lightning bugs
in a pickle jar

and later toward skins
that weren't worth the salt left crusted
in the trenches of callous knuckles.
I stumbled until I was thrown

upon you and your lemon hand lotion
and my head resting on your crossed feet.
We mused on John Bonham's playing
in the Table Tennis Championships.

Your voice untangled the air as it fell
and mulled the water.
I continue to tend it daily with small
prayers: One, two, three, four.

The ceremony is my elbow
brushing against the bathroom light switch.
The ceremony is the ache in my wrist.
I won’t allow you to

(I'm forbidden to write the word, so I didn’t.
I ask for mercy anyway: One, two, three, four.)

because I was too careless
to tap the kitchen sink’s handle
at the prescribed angle.
Nightly we lie nose to chest and I wonder

whether I can be certain I’ve satisfied
the one who demands it be satisfied.
For the hope of certainty: One, two, three, four.
The answer is never and still

the seconds continue fastening
one to another
with the only explanation being
that the tide was assigned to you

before it was my body.
But I can’t speak for the maker.
I don't know the origin of the
endless swell that spills against my ribs.

Only that everywhere
you end the altar begins.


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