Counting Down to Zero

by Karen Douglass

I’ve known a lot of nines in my life,
Numeral Nine’s a gregarious guy, a dandy
with his hat tilted over one eye.  He smiles,
then always waltzes off with someone else
while I reach for another hors d’oeuvre.

Eight holds an endless Mobius conversation
with its neutered self.  Those stacked zeroes
are hard to trust unless we believe
in Buddha’s Noble Eight-Fold Path
and the eight delights of Tao: color, sound,
kindness, righteousness, liturgy, music, wisdom
and knowledge.  And the double helix of DNA.

Lucky Seven is hard to beat, plays pool,
keeps his flattop spiked, will fight for food,
this seventh son, shooting craps, lounging
and leaving without a goodbye to our host.

Six sits on his big butt, eating chips and salsa,
greasy fingers on the table cloth, but
even-tempered, he gets along with everyone
so long as no one steals his Doritos.
I might have married Six if he had asked me.

The number whom I did marry, Mr. Five,
always looks ahead to the next quick sale,
master of the short break a la Brubeck,
and then he’s gone again, half way
to a double-digit income.

Four is womanly, gives us four paws
on a bear, the corners of an intersection,
directions on a map, stable legs on the table.

Four keeps order in the world.  Then again,
she owns the taunt “Four Eyes” as well as
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Contentious, Three’s the woman in control
of the Magi, the Holy Family, the Christian Trinity
and the triple Celtic goddess.  Crowds begin with her.
Her power breaks the bonds of Two, who thinks
he’s the only electron binding all the couplings
that matter.  Mr. Big Binomial.  What’s new, Two?
Keep both eyes wide open.  She’s after you.

Ah, and now we arrive at One, the individual
fully realized, the caryatid holding up the roof,
the spinal column transporting energy, chakra
to chakra, straight trunk of oak and pine,
a common divinity since Genesis.  She maintains
perfect posture, living as she does next to nothing,
the emptiness of the bowl that holds our soup.