Fall 2019 / Poetry 2019 / Volume 50

Counting Steps By: Tobi Alfier

In the old cemetery head down, 

cobbles and fallen branches

wait in the fog to trip him. 

The gray newborn sky matches stones

medieval and modern, matches the scarf

tied warmly around his neck.

He counts steps as he always does,

no matter the season, but this is his favorite

timethe thawing of fields harmonizing

with the smoke of his breath, another day,

another year of steps in a quiet morning,

a few scattered chirps far away, horses

snorting on the other side of the stacked rock-wall,

the boundary between the dead and the living.

 

He detects the scent of perfume and sadness

from yesterday’s service, a young widow,

black net guarding her face like an underworld

wedding veil, umbrella acting as cane to ward off

the threat of weather, mourners crowded

around to offer what comfort they can.

She just wants to go home and listen to them

from upstairsveil folded like a memorial flag,

stockings unfurled, small Waterford glass 

of anything, and a sleeping pill. No drama.

 

He’ll step often in this direction until the perfume fades, 

part of his daily constitutional. His old doctor

warned him wellten-thousand steps a day or your next birthday

will be your wake. As much as he loves entertaining,

he enjoys a toast and songbut doesn’t want to be the reason

for fourteen church-lady casseroles in his freezer,

awkward family meeting at his attorney’s spare office,

the division of nothing amidst no one. And so he walks.

All that is left is his faith in ten-thousand, the footfalls

of loping deer, headstones in icy winter, and the last song

hanging in empty air, his bold baritone in the chorus.

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