“Teach Us to Number Our Days”

In the old neighborhood, each funeral parlor
is more elaborate than the last.
The alleys smell of cops, pistols bumping their thighs,
each chamber steeled with a slim blue bullet.

Low-rent balconies stacked to the sky.
A boy plays tic-tac-toe on a moon
crossed by TV antennae, dreams

he has swallowed a blue bean.
It takes root in his gut, sprouts
and twines upward, the vines curling
around the sockets and locking them shut.

And this sky, knotting like a dark tie?
The patroller, disinterested, holds all the beans.

August. The mums nod past, each a prickly heart on a sleeve.

Rita Dove, “ ‘Teach Us to Number Our Days’ ” from Yellow House on the Corner (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1989). Copyright © 1989 by Rita Dove. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Source: Yellow House on the Corner (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1989)
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