Keeping Score

 

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Keeping Score

(‘… we blossom and flourish
like leaves on a tree
and wither and perish …’)

In the beginning was the number,
and that number was one:
number one.

Place it on the chessboard,
square A1,
bottom left corner,
black.

Next door,
on square B1,
white,
place number 2.
Next door,
C1,
place number 4.

The D1 square
claims number 8.
The players are abandoned
to their fate.
16 perch
on square E1.

32
land next door,
what fun,
and crowd into
square F1.

Square G1
sees 64
and H1
numbers
128,
each number a person,
forsaken of late,
and left to perish
in a perilous state.

Black on the left,
white on the right,
the numbers will soon rise
out of sight.

That’s just the start,
the first rank done.
Now we can really
have some fun.
A bean counter’s work
is never done.

H2 = 2-5-6.
Now we’re really
in a fix.

G2 = 5-1-2.
Whatever are we
going to do.

F2 = 1-0-2-4.
Now we’re rattling
up the score.

E2 = 2-0-4-8:
why did we procrastinate,
enjoying ourselves,
rich, young and wealthy,
thinking everyone
hale and healthy,
encouraging them
to drink and party.

D2 = 4-0-9-6.
‘What’s this?’
They cried.
‘It’s just the dead ones,’
we replied.
“Surely there can’t be
many more?”
We said we really
couldn’t be too sure,
though we all wished
it was somewhat fewer.

Body bags are not too pleasant,
laid out in rows,
or curved in a crescent.

“C2?”
We were asked
by a man in a surgical mask.
“8-1-9-2,”
came the reply,
“and there’s lots more
yet to die.”

“B2?”
“I’ll have to tell you later,
when I’ve checked
my calculator.”

We punch the numbers,
one by one.
Keeping score is so much fun.
“8192
multiplied by 2
gives us
1-6-3-8-4.”
“My God,” he said.
“How many more?”

A2
multiplies by two
the numbers laid out
on B2.
“We’re sorry,” we said,
“the news ain’t great:
now we’ve climbed to
32 thousand,
seven hundred
and sixty-eight.”

Don’t bother to give us any thanks.
We’ve got to calculate six more ranks.

Maybe when we get to square H8,
the dying will decelerate.
Then maybe we can celebrate.

Until then we’ll just keep score
and hope there aren’t too many more.

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