“The Numbered” by Christopher Raley

It’s easy to see sometimes why they hate us,
looking up from the pit to where our mouths
consume without tasting and our eyes
receive without knowing. We build the world
on the floor of our amusement. We watch
tiny players from too great a distance
to see them move. And the props of their lives
far too removed to arouse concern. Shacks perch
on a parched earth hillside where bruised girl
clings the tough guy who’s a boy. Laced tight canopy
covers bone-skin child more tightly than his shirt,
standing in the mouth of a hut. Drawn old city mother
hocks her daughter, toothless come-on, breasts plunging red-shirt. Cathedral relentless
squanders heaven’s citizens inside a wall of some 800 years.
There live the motionless. There live the numbered.
There they soak up storms and feel
the great cloud of the protected.

Have pity on us, so hard to pity.
Arrogance is not the excess but the defense
of a stomach that expands and is never full.
We try and we try, but no hardship we create
makes the having worthwhile.
Children of divine warning
we are sky high as good as on ground.
Ears hear their satisfaction from emotion’s stick.
Eyes see their possession in the screen thought placed it.
Where ever a man goes there he finds with him
the device of his anesthetism
so no comfort is too evasive, no squalor too great
to draw water from the well of empathy.
And the landscape orbits beneath us.

We are not a country called so by contours of earth.
Day by day and night by night she tells of what she knows,
of lights and signs, of chaos waters and those alien to air,
of valleys fragile enough to break
and mountains strong enough to shake.
This before stars were gas,
continents shifts of pressure and the land a prop for slogans,
when no built psyche her space of three dimension evils could hazard,
when gates opened only imagination could walk through
and longings ached only the prophet could speak to.
Do we feel?
The desert is empty, the prophet is gone.
He long since has spoken what long since has come.
Yet even here it vibrates the ground from where it first shook.

So do not be anxious over what we have,
wealth transcends nothing.
No one’s heart can make him a fortress of paper
or a guard of digits.
We are all the black and the frightened
chased down by the huntsman for curse or for blessing.
And yes, the numbered lie here as well.
Even in the palace of our distraction
where castle dreams sparkle so unnaturally grey
and fear is figures of paper mache
and Jamaica and Aruba are but walking distance
by a pink brick path that follows along
the white sand, the thick grass, the man-made lake.
Even here there are clouds above us. They gather and hang
and the suspended air begins to break.
A man and his son hold hands when they realize
they are walking nowhere in the rain.


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