“How Many?” by Rita Mae Reese

Rita Mae Reese


[A] biography is considered complete if it merely accounts for six or seven selves, whereas a person may have as many thousand … one on top of the other, as plates are piled on a waiter’s hand …
—Virginia Woolf

The women with me might as well be ghosts
and maybe me too
though we can order food in the diner
next to the table of 20-somethings
and their cacophonous lives
so loud we have to nearly shout
for each other and the waitress
—another sort of ghost, I suppose—
to hear. At our table, we are trying
to talk about the collapse of a condo
a thousand miles away and how the news
at first reported only one death
as if the building had been largely uninhabited
or as if its inhabitants could walk through walls,
let ceilings and the entire lives of neighbors
plummet straight through them.
The building that collapsed maybe (probably)
from neglect held over 150—the exact number
changes with each report.

The news travels at a speed
far more terrible than mercy;
every day, we fall further and further behind.
It is almost time to go,
and we may not talk about this again.
How many selves are we here at this table?
And who would like the check?

from Poets Respond
July 6th, 2021


Rita Mae Reese: “This poem is in response to the collapse of the condo in Florida, a sudden disaster that keeps unfolding slowly in front of us.” (web)


Tonight on Rattlecast #100: Alison Luterman! We’ll start off with Poets Respond Live—join us live at 8pm EDT …

Rattle Logo