I'd walk close to buildings counting 
bricks, run my finger in the grout 
till it grew hot and numb. Bricks 
in a row, rows on a floor, multiply 
floors, buildings, blocks in the city. 
I knew there were numbers for everything—
tires piled in mountains at the dump, 
cars on the interstate to Maine, 
pine needles blanketing the shoulder of the road, 
bubbles in my white summer spit. 
I dreamed of counting the galaxies 
of freckles on Laura MacNally, 
touching each one—she loves me, 
she loves me not—right on up her leg, 
my pulse beating away at the sea 
wall of my skin, my breath
inhaling odd, exhaling even.

To know certain numbers 
would be like standing next to God, 
a counting God, too busy 
to stop for war or famine. 
I'd go out under the night sky 
to search for Him up there:
God counting, next to Orion 
drawing his bow. I'd seen 
an orthodox Jew on the subway, 
bobbing into the black volume 
in his palms, mouthing words 
with fury and precision, a single 
drop of spittle at the center 
of his lip catching the other lip 
and stretching like silk thread. 
At night I dreamed a constant stream
of numbers shooting past my eyes so fast 
all I could do was whisper as they 
came. I'd wake up reading the red 
flesh of my lids, my tongue 
flapping like ticker tape.
I come from a family of counters; 
my brother had 41 cavities in 20 teeth 
and he told everyone he met; 
Grandpa figured his compound 
daily interest in the den, at dusk, 
the lights turned off, the ice 
crackling in his bourbon; my father 
hunched over his desk working 
overtime for the insurance company, 
using numbers to predict 
when men were going to die.

When I saw the tenth digit added 
to the giant odometer in Times Square 
tracking world population, I wondered 
what it would take for those wheels 
to stop and reverse. What monsoon 
or earthquake could fill graves faster 
than babies wriggled out of wombs? 
Those vast cemeteries in Queens—
white tablets lined up like dominoes 
running over hills in perfect rows—
which was higher, the number 
of the living or the dead? Was it 
true, what a teacher had said:
get everyone in China to stand on a bucket, 
jump at exactly the same time 
and it'd knock us out of orbit? 
You wouldn't need everyone, 
just enough, the right number, 
and if you knew that number 
you could point to a skinny 
copper-colored kid and say
You're the one, you can send us flying. 
That's all any child wants: to count. 
That's all I wanted to be, the millionth 
customer, the billionth burger sold, the one 
with the foul ball, waving for TV.

More by Douglas Goetsch

Such a Good Dancer

Desperate to be part of the night, 
we jerked like a bunch of spazzes 
to that screaming eunuch, Michael Jackson. 
Randi Muelbach kept remarking 
You're such a good dancer!
drawing closer, letting me grab her 
saggy ass. My boogying was a sort 
of two-step hip gyration while holding 
my plastic cup of grain alcohol level. 
I had perfected the arm that remained still, 
kept it out like a bird feeder. Randi 
glued elbows to waist and swung 
forearms, hands and hips furiously. 
She was sweating something fierce. 
Her perfume was foul swamp flowers.

From the futon on her floor I watched 
her pull her dress over her head. 
Fat and sadly flat-chested, 
legs already bluing with veins, thick 
knees knocked in, the way the back 
wheels of a Volkswagen buckle with a load. 
Disgusted with myself--two years 
in college and still a virgin--I would 
stick my dick in a girl and end that. 
As she stepped out of her underwear 
I said, After tonight I don't want us 
to ever talk again. OK?
That's what I said.
She looked down at me and said 
Sure, like it was nothing.

Through the cinder block walls 
I could hear that whole dorm writhing 
on a Saturday night. Even Kim Putnam, 
the born again who wore only long skirts 
and was losing her hair, was getting banged 
and moaning like a wild woman. 
Sometimes it sounded like a crowd 
ooh-ing and ahh-ing at a car accident; 
sometimes I heard the night as one fuck 
xeroxed and traveling room to room 
like a rumor, or luck--good or bad, 
either way, I wriggled and fought 
on top of Randi Muelbach, 
who kept whispering in my ear 
Such a good dancer.