Field mice tell lies better than
when he began to fail,
first in the evenings, counting
out the rows and weights
of the day’s downed wheat.
his fingers an abacus
on mother’s old plaid oilcloth.
He counted the season’s crop,
the winter’s stock,
winnowing numbers over
and over until no space remained
in a white paper tablet.
Just tired, he would say,
swiping that hand in the air,
pushing away my meddling.
Two days later,
straddling thin field rows,
the thresher ran dry.
Oil gone, gears locked,
in a hard, crippled fist.
That night, he counted again
pasting pages of numbers—
shaky penciled rows—
into an old National Geographic.
It was about shipwrecks,
skeletons of great vessels, half submerged
near shore, stoic and ruined.
He covered the pages.
Rich, inky blue depths of an ocean
littered with silent carriers,
broken hulks and invisible dead men.
His calculations for the fuel
the welder, the lost wheat, the flour
to make our bread, the church’s tithe.
Come to bed, I would say,
a good farm wife.
His hand shook as he held up five fingers
Soon. Soon, he would reply.
The day he forgot my face
was a Tuesday sealed in January snow.
By then, the walls held secrets
only he knew, formulas,
one thousand ways to find money
in the chaff, to divide lots.
The magazines were used,
glue pot dry. I spent cloth money
to buy notebooks and ledgers.
Bits of broken lead littered the floor
like mouse droppings.
Please don’t go, I breathed that day
Please write the numbers. Find a way.
And he held up his hand, slowly
palm up, stopping my words.
It came to rest, dry, warm,
against my face, his eyes working
to find the sum of us.