Wooden beads sliding on wires
held in a bamboo frame.
When someone dies, we slide
them off to the other side.
A binary abacus is used to explain
how computers manipulate numbers.
My daughter would understand,
she’d say it’s switches, either on or off.
Before beads on wires, they were simply
stones moved along grooves in the sand,
Hence the name, from the Greek,
abakos, a board covered with dust,
Perhaps from the Hebrew ʾābāq (אבק),
for dust, in the post-Biblical sense
Meaning sand used as a writing surface,
but it makes me think, again, of dust to dust.
Kids these days don’t even know
what an abacus is, the ways we subtract,
All the rough calculations of on and off.
Calculating-Table by Gregor Reisch: Margarita Philosophica, 1503.
I dreamed of finding dead birds —
the hens we lost last summer,
and our favorite rooster —
perfectly preserved in the snow
I was shoveling off the driveway.
I proceeded with caution,
more archaeologist than gravedigger,
uncertain of what lay beneath
each drifted form, probing
the outlines of the proximate future
in each measured spadeful.
Then I asked you what to do
with the newly uncovered fowl
but when I could not hear your response
I shouted, “I can’t hear you
when you turn away from me,”
and immediately felt so sorry
for raising my voice unnecessarily
that I woke up suddenly
and thought of all I had to do
with so many bodies to rebury,
so much blood and bone and feather.
I am on the road away from you,
watching for bald eagles.
They complain about the food, lack thereof;
they talk and they talk of the unfairness of afterlife;
how the old dead have their heads in the clouds;
how no one listens to them anymore, and never did.
The old dead shuffle with their hands
where their pockets used to be, humming
like wind in the pines behind the red barn,
unable to speak with their dry mouths filled by dust.