Home > Chapbook Finalists 2011 > The Discreet Charm of Prime Numbers

The Discreet Charm of Prime Numbers

September 20, 2011

from The Discreet Charm of Prime Numbers by Gail Segal

Sky that promised to fall
hangs on, not clear of its pick
on the wheel of color.
No cars, no buses,
trucks asleep
in the highway stops
and they call this morning?

You think of nothing
but death and its probabilities.
When the mind relaxes, drifting
to weather or fashion
you are called back by numbers
on the door of the hotel room,
or numbers on the cabana
at the beach, or the young man
at the next table
bereaved by his bride
dying in her sleep. You are sure
it belongs to you as nothing
ever has, to hold and to have.

The night will fall out
with mint crushed in a glass
over lemon and rum,
mermaids lounging by the pool,
men with puissance toasting — what?
the moon, of course, full —
and you will wear sandals glittering
with rhinestones, the night
with its long table of candles,
the heat lamps,
an orange buzz like people
milling about sharing
what’s left of their faces.

Rumors stir — a woman
set in motion by
a “system of vibrations,”
the story events of her life,
a “map of endless resonance.”
And hearing of her,
you want to know what accounts
for her destroying
every concrete goodness
with a will to be acted upon
seized unexpectedly
by an agent of magnificence.

You dream as if worn
by days of vacation,
his arrival, even in dreaming,
an intrusion upon a life
with the man you will marry
and you notice a glass
tipped to breakage, the wine
puddled beneath it,
a bed unfolds from the sofa
and he plants himself there
for a long stay.

Note: Section 5 originally appeared in
Chelsea 80 (2006) under the title “Prime Numbers.”

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Gail Segal is a poet, filmmaker and teacher. Her first book of poems, In Gravity’s Pull, was published in 2002. She teaches in the Graduate Division of Film at NYU.

  1. Roberta Burnett
    September 21, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Evocative and mysterious, it treks in and out of an immediately understandable reality, surprising readers who can and do want more.

  2. September 22, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    There is a ‘wordless’ word that describes the feeling one gets when reading and be overwhelmed with a greatly written poem, of one’s choice, that is, and for me it is, “Wow!” for yours. Thank you!

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