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Counting Sheep

    Counting sheep, the scientists suggested, may simply be too boring to
    do for very long, while images of a soothing shoreline ... are engrossing
    enough to concentrate on.

           —The New York Times


When I reach
a thousand
I start to notice
how the eyes
of one ewe are wide,
as if with worry
about her lamb
or how cold
the flock will be
after the shearing.
At a thousand fifty
I notice a ram
pushing up against
a soft and curly female,
and for a moment
I'm distracted by errant
images of sex.
It is difficult
to keep so many sheep
in line for counting—
they are not a parade
but more like a roiling
sea of whitecaps,
which makes me think
of the shore—
of all those boring
grains of sand
to keep track of
as they slip
through the fingers,
of all the dangers
of sunstroke,
riptide, jellyfish.
The scientists fall
asleep lulled
by equations,
by dreams
of experiments,
and I fall asleep
at last by
counting them:
biologists and
physicists,
astronomers,
geneticists,
and all the many experts
on the subject
of sleep.


Linda Pastan

Prairie Schooner

Fall 2011


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