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Numbers and Dust

ISSUE:  Autumn 1985
All day we were training in dust.
At night we returned to barracks
worn out, too tired to say anything.

On weekends we travelled long distances
to Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio,
looking for excitement, walking up and down
with all the other enlisted men,
trying to pick up a shop girl
or waitress hurrying home.

No luck that way, so we’d split up
and agree to meet back at the depot.


Now you’re by yourself, on Vine Street
or Magnolia, gazing at the sprinklers,
a bicycle lying in the drive.

A curtain moves as you pass. . .some old lady.

Then there are bigger houses, with lawns and gardens:
English Tudor, a French château,
Bauhaus. The rich like to shop around.


Years later I was in one of those houses
as a guest.

      Looking through a window
at some trees, I asked their names.
“Flowering Judas, golden rain tree,
ceniza. . .that’s very Texan.”

And the birds picking at berries?
Waxwings.”They get drunk,” she said.

In the room behind me Isaac Singer
was talking about golems, things like men
created out of numbers and dust.


Two rabbis once made a golem
and sent it to Rabbi Zera
who tried to engage it in conversation.
But the golem spoke not a word.
Finally he said, “You must have been made
by the numbers. Return to your dust.”

I thought, I can see one now,
standing by the gate,
in the uniform of an enlisted man.

It stood looking up at me
for a few moments, then turned away
in silence, returning to dust.


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