“Oh to count the stars in the sky!
How many should we count for just one to be moved?”

~ from “Guest Songs,” An Anthology of Chuvash Poetry, trans. Peter France

If you’ve ever opened the door
to a haze of smoke draped
over the entire town—

If you’ve ever decided not to worry
that in the night, someone has taken
down your house numbers—

If you’ve ever placed the seed of a hot
pepper on your tongue just to feel
how a small thing burns—

If you’ve ever kept back something
amounting to the best part for the best
that was supposed to come—

If you’ve ever grit your teeth
through the deepening pain shooting up
your right leg and hip at night—

If you’ve ever tried to quiet an aviary
of the moment’s most insoluble problems
set loose in your chest—

If you’ve ever curled your toes or
clenched your fingers while reciting
a prayer or spell inside your head—

If you’ve ever woken in the early hours
to the hard clear sound, the flinch
of metal rung on metal—

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