“How Many Times” by Susan Sue

Susan Sue


To live is to count.
He concluded when we clasped
on my apartment bed.
He was a fireman, a man
who touched my legs
like tracing
a bruised star.
At night, he talked about people
disappeared in the smoke.
We were in that burning building.
Seven of us, only six
made back to life.
He always paused
here as if he still felt the fire
licking over his lap, blurred
voices counting down
to his face.
I am always thinking of seven … you know? But I only
count to six.
It was August. After sex,
he let me wet his wounds
with my lips and told me
an old Chinese myth:
Time is a ferry adrift
on Lethe. People lose
track of their property. The day
they stop counting, they fall
into bare-black stones and become
the flower of fire,
He had large hands, large enough
to scoop the moon when
he cupped my face.
I was reminded of my grandpa.
He was a tough man. His face
was never shaved in the right way, black
stubble sprouted out like tendrils until
he was put under treatment.
I counted: four
fingernails, two teeth, no hair, only
a small shard of his face
belonged to him.
They shoveled a stone
to place his ashes.
I watched him grow back again.
This time, he was red.
I count: half-
pair of teeth brace, additional
aspirins, keys, three nail cutters, no
mole on my left knee, inside a new
red suitcase I put D.H.Lawrence’s
Sons and Lovers, which he gave to me
last winter. We have broken up
long enough.
I think of him
when I watch the news tonight:
A bus turned down to the ground.
Twenty-seven people died.
I am not sure if he still stays in his job if he does
he will be there—
lug up the burned-black bus, pull
the locked windows, press
against the hot iron crust.
What you have touched,
he once told me,
will grow in you.
Years later,
He will bring up the night:
how he took off his gloves and touched
the bus shards. All
the rubble, the red rearview, soft shreds
of lives goldened his hands. In the dark,
another woman will wet his wounds
with her lips until fire grows
back in his fissures until
he whispers that story—
But how many times should we count
to bring them back?

from Poets Respond
September 25, 2022


Susan Sue: “September 18, 2:40 a.m. On the highway of Guizhou province, a bus carrying 47 people ‘flipped onto its side.’ Twenty people were injured. Twenty-seven people died. I wish the dead find peace in eternal rest, and I send my deepest condolences to those who lost their loved ones. My grief and anguish forced me to write this poem. It was the only thing I could do.”

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