He knows we uproot burdock
and hack down the musky trees of heaven.
He knows we kill mosquitoes,
but spare the killer spiders. He knows
how cats and opossums look
when they get run over: slick loops
of veined intestines, bulged eyes
and choked-out tongues. He knows
the living die, but do not want to die:
worm tugged thin from dirt to bird;
hooked fish muscling for the water;
scared pig scuffing against the ramp.
He knows we humans die, and kill
our own. He knows what soldiers are,
what warplanes do. He is four
and he also knows numbers:
a hundred and twenty-five pounds,
his mother. Sixty minutes, one long hour.
Three million people, the city of Chicago.
He’s four, and lately wants to know wars:
“Tell me a war, Daddy.” I name one,
and he wants the number of people killed.
The Civil War: six hundred thousand.
“Is that more than a thousand?
Can you count that many? Tell me
another war.” And another. He pays
attention. Vietnam: more than two million.
World War Two: at least forty million.
“That’s a lot, isn’t it?” Later he’ll ask, “Why?”
and we’ll talk about money, land, hate,
and following orders, but right now
all he wants is the name of a war
and the numbers of the killed—numbers
so vast you couldn’t count them
in a single lifetime, like the number
to tally earth’s weight—a number he loves
to tell and tell: six point six sextillion tons.