When I Think about the Number of Casualties in Afghanistan

 

I wish I learned to add beyond whole numbers
because no numbers are whole
and clean and cut. There is always a fraction attached,
a percentage applied, a decimal invisible
as a dog’s flea.

 

No iceberg floats flat as a bathtub duck.
No tanker plows
without a draft.
Even moored in the murky harbor you can spot
the numbers of displacement
descend like a wish penny
down the hull’s sides.

 

Why am I surprised to spy
in the shallow of a lake
a catfish
lying still as a black bottle?

 

I pause to kneel
as though this is the first catfish ever seen,
and to view it is
a privilege extended
only to a god

 

and the accompanying tender of minnows
clouding this behemoth,
monarch of the unnamed pond.

 

How many there are,
darting within the twist and snapping range
of its jaws

 

though today it chooses to rest
motionless as an idling locomotive
on a weedy siding,

 

to settle log-stiff
within the visible rays of sun
which streak the waters
like a witch’s hair,

 

which warm the long-tracked line of its spine
and reveal particles of sand
stirred up by the slow, insistent huffing of its gills.

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Paul David Adkins served in the US Army for over 21 years. His collections include “Flying Over Baghdad with Sylvia Plath,” “Operational Terms and Graphics,” and “La Dona, La Llorona.” He lives in NY and teaches in a penitentiary.