Counting Down the Night
Ten boughs for the darling who longs for the lizard-faced boy. Ten songs for his sick mother. Ten lashes on the ogre’s back for carrying the hay barn across the river, but ten kindnesses if he should drown. Four eggs and a loaf of rye bread make the poor family’s dinner tonight, which makes the six of them sleep, even the father under the night’s long feather, be it twill of winter, uncompromising and bare, or the promise of nothing in the hours of their next hunger. Praise the daughter twice, her tendril-bone, praise her anxiety, her rattling tooth of wind, her flakes of skin. If you were to die right now. If you were to be no more, it would be no more than the smallest of these. To go wordlessly in sleep. To go without a father, a mother, a simple dog who whimpers; these who would be no more. It is that vacuum of disappearance. That final, unforgivable seal. The sheep over the fence. The bloody wool caught in the barb. The bleating of the little one lost, as they pound on, relentlessly. The puma from which they run. The night’s cliff just beyond their knowing. It is this finality that allows us to stretch out now. Way out there. Where it all could just melt away. Where we may pluck them from the floe, find each clue, and shear. Make way. Safely to the barn. When I have wet sheep warming in their stalls, all will be quiet, but for the little one lost. And if ever the lantern tips, the ogre will carry the burning barn off to the river to drown.