Ten, nine, eight, we said.
Up till then we only watched
the second hand scurry.
But now, so close, the numbers
possessed us: seven, six, five.
As a child I was frightened,
exhilarated; I knew what was coming.
Four, three, two, and still the women
smiled, their colored lips
poised for the turn: one—
Happy New Year! That first cry
I always mistook for joy,
but as the spent ship of the year
went down, a new one rose
like a great sob. Every woman
I loved: Mother, Grandmother,
Great Aunts with their hair done up,
lurched across the room
to launch the fresh ship with tears.
I knew this to be something
about the dead: my one grandmother
setting her lips against the other.
All the pettiness, all the little feuds,
laid to rest as the women cried,
searched out the room for ghosts.
The mad kisses, a fever, and the men
looked down—and I remember,
when the women came for me,
the kisses were violent,
as if the hunted spirits could be extracted
from the small mouth of a child.