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Love's Last Number

       for Emma, in memoriam


She was four years old when she told me
the children at her daycare had been arguing
over which was greater, infinity (pronounced
"finity") or the last number.

Sometimes we're speechless because we deserve to be.
Sometimes love leaps out beyond enumeration
or the vast, starry spaces in the skull of time.

With a secret, satisfied smile, she said, almost to herself,
"Jeremy says it's the last number, but we really know
it's finity."

And now she has gone like a sprite
into the genius of her answer, leaping every number, sailing
into the endlessness of that smile, and left us
plodding knee-deep in starless equations
in which X equals loss, again and again
and again, to the nth power.

Jesus said our days are numbered.
Hermes Trismegistus said numbers were the secret words
by which the world and heavens told each other
what would ever be.

And now we say a thing that matters
"counts."
And when it stops counting it is dross.

We say to measure is to know
and to know is to possess. But love
burns without consuming and weighs nothing,

like faith,
like a fool's precision or the dream of a memory
of a child's face.

The seventy-two names of God, the ten thousand things, too,
are nothing
to the one indivisible life, the sweet and singular falling
plum
and the spirit that flies away.


Christopher Howell

Love's Last Number
Milkweed Editions


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