by Kwame Dawes

Math messes things up; this is
a problem of fate—the enemy
of the random, the egalitarian
paradise of home truths and
proverbs—math wrecks it
all. Rain, God says, falls
on the just and the unjust
alike, but the unjust usually
have umbrellas and math
pays attention to that stuff,
to the facts of it, like when
I say, “We are all having it
hard,” to ease my guilt; most
of that is a lie and it’s true,
the thing I am not saying
is that hard time is a language,
a private dialect—it has its own
village, its own district, its own
tribe, and there are the pure-
bloods of the tribe and the half-
breeds, and hard times
is not what the mouth says,
nor is it like the girl who
one day runs up into
an impossible equation,
like she being shot in the neck
outside a Wal-Mart while
fleeing the scene, with two
slabs of beef, a scarf and three
skirts—the security guard
saying stop twice, and then
shooting her, which sounds
like a hard time, especially
if she is black and he is black,
too—or maybe it is like
the color thing; like who
says red is red in someone
else’s eyes as in mine. And we
are all safe, and most of us
die in beds, most of us
have time to say, “Have mercy
on my soul,” most of us
die looking at a ceiling
and nothing leaps at us
like crows from a bush;
most of us are what we were
going to be before we knew
what we were going to be,
and after knowing most of us
do not surprise ourselves
or anyone else, which is what
I mean by the math of it—
the dialect of suffering
that we learn not to
understand, though we do
like we do the scents
around us—how they move
us, how we can’t explain
them, how we cry without
really knowing why we do.