Eighty-three words leap from their horses. Eighty-three words all lie down, each bearing a sign on their chest. One forgot his hat, one forgot a feather. Not words, but Little Big Horn battle re-enactors at a sushi restaurant. No wonder they were confused — how can a horn be little and big at the same time? A man sitting beside me turned to face me. Can you lower your voice, he said. Surprise, he was my deceased father dressed up as Crazy Horse, that dandy.
There are times a man has to choose between a feather and a bullet. My father told me this. I’ve made a list of all the things he told me that were important, and this is first. Strange as it seems, there are eighty-three things on the list and he died on his eighty-third birthday, eighty-three days after my mother passed. There’s no explanation for this. Yesterday I was dismayed to discover my car is parked eighty-three steps from my front door.
In numerology eighty-three stands for eternity-and-a-half. They say Crazy Horse was late for the battle of Little Big Horn because he kept changing his outfits. Finally he had it right, his cream buckskins with the red and yellow tassels. At the end of each tassel, a crow feather. His braves, who had been waiting impatiently, were relieved to see him come out of his teepee. At that very moment in eternity, my father came out of the bathroom in the sushi restaurant.
When Crazy Horse died, eighty-three braves, in war colors with long headdresses of eagle feathers, danced around his body. The history of eighty-three, written on the back of a sushi menu in downtown Los Angeles is memorized by each sushi chef. That’s what I love about eighty-three, the color, the history. The only other number with a comparable story is one hundred and eleven. Yes, one hundred and eleven. But there is so much heartbreak there it makes me sob to tell.
Rick Bursky and I conceived this in a sushi restaurant. Some of the narrative comes from the local scene and our conversation at the meal. We decided to write alternate prose poem sections containing 83 words each and the word feather. I was intrigued by how seamless the sections were. One of the challenges was sticking to our “rules” but keeping each section fresh. It was fun and we are planning to try it again soon.