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The High Numbers

The High Numbers

David Berman
16 Snaps

I liked to fall asleep to the sound of the dishwasher pounding itself
as I was into a certain amount of Andrew Jackson worship at that age
and knew I needed time alone to unschool the rainbow dumbness
in my heart if I was ever to gain possession over my own storyline
and perish in the badass world-historical death that I dreamed of.

Like other young men I dreamed of perfect fighting on leagues of clover,
of hunting naked and terrified schoolteachers on the mesas
of western states that looked like empty calendar squares
in the beatup road atlas where I sketched my pitiless campaigns.

My bedroom drapes were like two mathematicians at work
on the same problem and I remember lying beneath them,
counting to one hundred for the first time. I imagined that
as an adult I would count into the very high numbers
leaving the rest of civilization behind to socialize with bankers
and bitch about traffic as if they were not a part of it.

I wanted to snarl something like “I’d rather be right than alive”
at the point of a Redcoat’s bayonet, storm the beaches of Waikiki
with my hardbitten legion of Hawaiian secessionists, or,
if nothing else, control horrible CIA lions from a remote location
with a joystick.

Each Christmas my grandmother gave me a set of gloves and a ski mask
as if to suggest that I begin robbing convenience stores.
Not only that, but I was repeatedly served bad meals,
the eating of which was like pushing against a wall.

I would have nothing to do with nuts, which were clearly baby wood,
and shuddered at the sight of the cornucopias in Thanksgiving illustrations
that reminded me of the tunnels in space
from where I was certain stepfathers emerged.

I tried to regard most of these procedures with equanimity.
That the adults who preceded me had placed confusion on a pedestal,
screwed themselves by worshiping the impenetrable
and then lamely tried to broker a love and loyalty clause into the deal
as a gesture of further abdication was no business of mine.

I know what you’re thinking, people should file their childhood
under “W” for “Who Cares?,” but the mind must attend to the things
it is just beginning to understand, like how after all that fierce planning
I could grow up to be the soft ineffectual synthesis
of untold compromises that I am today.

I rarely get out of bed before noon.This afternoon I thought
I might head over to the women’s prison and apply for a job.
Instead I went out for a walk beneath the high-built clouds,
avoiding the gaze of overweight pets in my neighbor’s picture windows.

I passed a parked car with New Hampshire plates and its motto,
“Live Free or Die” suddenly struck me as a lurid overstatement,
something I could only understand as a line from an antique play
or as a bumper sticker fixed to the hind of a stagecoach.

A horrible terrible overstatement of the worst kind.

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