# Ode to numbers

*Oh, the thirst to know*

*how many!*

*The hunger*

*to know*

*how many*

*stars in the sky!*

*–*

*We spent*

*our childhood counting*

*stones and plants, fingers and*

*toes, grains of sand, and teeth,*

*our youth was past counting*

*petals and comets’ tails.*

*We counted*

*colors, years,*

*lives, and kisses;*

*in the country,*

*oxen; by the sea,*

*the waves. Ships*

*became proliferating ciphers.*

*Numbers multiplied.*

*The cities*

*were thousands, millions,*

*wheat hundreds*

*of units that held*

*within them smaller numbers,*

*smaller than a single grain.*

*Time became a number.*

*Light was numbered*

*and no matter how it raced with sound*

*its velocity was 37.*

*Numbers surrounded us.*

*When we closed the door*

*at night, exhausted,*

*an 800 slipped*

*beneath the door*

*and crept with us into bed,*

*and in our dreams*

*4000s and 77s*

*pounded at our foreheads*

*with hammers and tongs.*

*5s*

*added to 5s*

*until they sank into the sea of madness,*

*until the sun greeted us with its zero*

*and we went running*

*to the office,*

*to the workshop,*

*to the factory,*

*to begin again the infinite*

*1 of each new day.*

*–*

*We had time, as men,*

*for our thirst slowly*

*to be sated,*

*the ancestral desire*

*to give things a number,*

*to add them up,*

*to reduce them*

*to powder,*

*wastelands of numbers.*

*We*

*papered the world*

*with numbers and names,*

*but*

*things survived,*

*they fled*

*from numbers,*

*went mad in their quantities,*

*evaporated,*

*leaving*

*an odor or a memory,*

*leaving the numbers empty.*

*–*

*That’s why*

*for you*

*I want things.*

*Let numbers*

*go to jail,*

*let them march*

*in perfect columns*

*procreating*

*until they give the sum*

*total of infinity.*

*For you I want only*

*for the numbers*

*along the road*

*to protect you*

*and for you to protect them.*

*May the weekly figure of your salary*

*expand until it spans your chest.*

*And from the 2 of you, embraced,*

*your body and that of your beloved,*

*may pairs of children’s eyes be born*

*that will count again*

*the ancient stars*

*and countless*

*heads of grain*

*that will cover a transformed earth.*

Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Numbers”, from “Elemental Odes” (1952 – 1957)