poetry

30 days of poems: day five

Today marks the sixth anniversary of Jack’s death. This poem reflects a bit of how I feel. He was 48 when he died. I was 36. I’m now 42, halfway the distance between our ages. It feels odd to be aging, closing the gap between us. I wonder if I’ll outlive him. With the health problems I have, some of which I’ve not talked about here (they are too scary for me to publicly acknowledge, at least not yet), I might not. If I do, I know it will be weird and difficult. In any case, here’s the poem.  

The Act of Counting

By Nathalie Handal

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.

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