The Act of Counting

Death is careless at times. It confuses love with a wet afternoon in an empty
room.  The  unpainted walls a reminder of how sex can resemble poverty.  A
hollow  cry.   An open mouth falling inside as you sleep.   I prepare  my heart
and language with better words,  like worlds in small selves  I've built.  Every
month,  one dollar buys me one brick.  But  how many bricks  does  it  take to
build a house?  A stray dog barks late at night.  I can't  see him  but know he's
there.   He   reminds   me   that  here,  dreams  have  dangerous  turns.  I  turn
around  to  no  one  naked  beside  me. I  play  it  safe  not to see the fire in my
hands.  But let us be clear:  I'm no beggar.  It's  just that there are times  when 
the  world  is  a  sound  that  cripples  the air,  and the soul. When what seems
arranged — glazing and  strange,  like  music  played on tin cans — turns  into
wilting  noise.  When  suddenly,  all  that  exists  is  a small boy trying to focus
on the pain lifting a nation.  A telephone call:  He was wearing black shoes, a 
Calvin  Klein  T-shirt  that he  found in a hotel trash, brown slacks.  She  was
wearing  one  earring  on her right ear,  one sock on her left foot, a dress the
color  of sky.  She  bought him  a canne à sucre.  He pulled her close, said, Ti
cherie.   And  after  they  promised  to meet  later,   she  winked  and  walked
leisurely in the shade. A tremble followed. When he turned around, her body
was one of a thousand on the streets. He ran towards her, stood by her arm,

unable to see her face. The call drops. I begin to count the ways I tolerate my
dry mouth. To count the glasses of water I gave away to make up for my sins.
But this act does not count when we fall out of our hearts.


Nathalie Handal, "The Act of Counting" from The Republics. Copyright © 2015 by Nathalie Handal.  Reprinted by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.
Source: The Republics (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015)
More Poems by Nathalie Handal