Adding It Up

by Phillip Booth, from Lifelines: Selected Poems, 1950-1999

lifelines My mind's eye opens before
the light gets up. I
lie awake in the small dark,
figuring payments, or how
to scrape paint; I count
rich women I didn't marry.
I measure bicycle miles
I pedaled last Thursday
to take off weight; I give some
passing thought to the point
that if I hadn't turned poet
I might well be some other
sort of accountant. Before
the sun reports its own weather
my mind is openly at it:
I chart my annual rainfall.
or how I'll plant seed if
I live to be fifty. I look up
words like "bilateral symmetry"
in my mind's dictionary; I consider
the bivalve mollusk, re-pick
last summer's mussels on Condon Point,
preview the next red tide, and
hold my breath: I listen hard
to how my heart valves are doing.
I try not to get going
too early: bladder permitting,
I mean to stay in bed until six;
I think in spirals, building
horizon pyramids, yielding to
no man's flag but my own.
I think of Saul Steinberg:
I play touch football on one leg,
I seesaw on the old cliff, trying
to balance things out: job,
wife, children, myself.
My mind's eye opens before
my body is ready for its
first duty: cleaning up after
an old-maid Basset in heat.
That, too, I inventory:
the Puritan strain will out,
even at six a.m.; sun or no sun,
I'm Puritan to the bone, down to
the marrow and then some:
if I'm not sorry I worry,
if I can't worry I count.