Following Masson's poem, is "Things to Count On," one of my own poems of counting--a prose poem describing the way that numbers order the life of a frugal farmer and his family, working to make ends meet in Pennsylvania in the middle of the 20th century.

**The Arithmetic of Nurses**by Veneta Masson

*S-s-s, S-s-s, S-s-s*

Bennie Smith is trying to speak.

I am counting out cookies

from a faded blue tin.

*S-s-s, S-s-s, S-s-s*

Twelve!

Are twelve cookies enough to hold

a sick old man for thirty-six hours?

Twelve cookies and one can of juice?

Twelve cookies wrapped in a towel

tucked under a pillow where roaches

ply a brisk trade in crumbs?

*Six!*

He blurts it out

face lit up by the restless flicker

of the television screen.

No, twelve, I muse.

Unless someone comes

that’s all he’ll have

till I get back again.

*S-s-s-six thousand!*

He strains under the weight of the words.

Clearly he has something important to say

but I am caught up with my own calculations—

The number of minutes

it will take a rivulet of urine

to reach the screaming bedsores

on this back

The number of degrees

his temperature will rise

as infection sets in

The number of days

it will take him

to let me call the ambulance

The number of times

I must walk the long hall

to this dim little room

the width of a bed.

His stiff body straddles the low bed

like apiece of plywood on a sawhorse.

Push down on the feet, up comes the head.

I tilt my ear toward his mouth

to catch the stutterings.

*S-s-s-six thousand nurses…*

*on strike today…*

*Meh- Meh- Meh- Minnesota!*

Half his face breaks into a grin

for if there’s one thing Bennie understands

it’s the arithmetic of nurses

and old, abandoned men.

"The Arithmetic of Nurses" is found in Veneta Massom's collection

*Rehab at the Florida Avenue Grill*, (Sage Femme Press, 1999) . "Things to Count On," below, appears in my 2010 collection

*Red Has No Reason*--available through Plain View Press, and at amazon.com.

**Things to Count On**by JoAnne Growney

I want to say how beautiful it was — but it was not. Each animal, each shed, each acre was useful; we kept them with good care and counted them, counted on them. One hundred forty acres, seven sheds. A white frame house, eight tall rooms and bath, a cellar with a dozen shelves for canned goods and four lines for laundry, a truck room for junk. We five in three bedrooms, four beds. One extra room for guests — my aunts. Our dining room with seven doors plus closets. A shed beside the corn crib with space for three wagons and a Plymouth. The barn with two mows for hay, a third for straw, a granary, a bathtub for livestock drinking, and six private stalls. Nine cows with two for milking, which I did. In seven days no minutes to be happy, no hours to be sad — not even when my father died. My mother's a good woman, worth three good women. For sixty years everyone has thought so, and more than a hundred have said. I've stopped counting.

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