Counting to Zero | Versus
Poems by Jeffrey Little

Counting to Zero

MP3 Audio File LinkHear Jeffrey Little read “Counting to Zero” here.



I’m sitting inside a circle of duct tape, counting tissues. Everything’s 
either boned-up, ghosting, or it’s Gone. It takes me about an hour
to work my way to zero. Nothing yet has plummeted from the sky,
not even a turkey. I’m beginning to think that it’s all a practical joke

of some kind, or a new way of counting to zero. I go on-line and buy
myself a metric socket-wrench for seventeen bucks. You never know.
It’s true. Just today I found out why they put the Do Not Remove tag
on a mattress. It’s complicated and involves the French, the Dreyfus

Affair. When you see a picture of him, it looks like he’s counting. No
matter what you may think of the length of the baseball season, we
still must respect the primacy of the numbers. The tallying appears
to have no end. Another siren, another false alarm. Or a real alarm,

but lacking context, and context is what we’re all struggling with here.
If you stop and really think about it, has any of us ever seen the inside
of an egg? It could be like a palace in there. Roll top desks and weird
green lamps. Like in France. I walk up the stairs and I wash my hands.



I walk down the stairs and I wash my hands. The things we do in front
of a mirror. Everyone is sort of sick. Maybe if a trellis of smoke filled 
the sky, or I saw someone moved on a gurney into a black sedan. But 
this, this is a television show. Outside it’s just a little empty, and nice.
A neighbor kid on her bicycle and a breeze. A breeze! Have you ever
tried to count a breeze? It’s tricky. Someone’s always coming in from
the cold. When I think back and try to picture the way things were it
looks a lot like today, only now through a buffer of glass. In the right 

light a pane of glass can be a mirror. I see a version of myself looking 
back into the house watching me watch the neighbor kid riding a bike.
This reminds me of the obscure dread evoked in old movies of staring
down into a winding staircase, a splash of dissonant piano with a single

cymbal and the eyes, tied as they are to the stomach, the eyes go wide,
then bottom. I realize I’m looking out the glass screen door with what
could only charitably be called a slack-jawed gape. The neighbor kid’s
seen worse. She brakes, and counts on her fingers the number of cats.



Everyone is waiting inside except the cats, the ferals and the nearly so. 
They think themselves responsible for this change in the situation, they 
patrol like lions, and at night settle upon the empty porches. Beyond 
hammerfall and doomcrack this is, for now, what’s left us. I would’ve

imagined something a bit more gothic. Not zombies, these days they
seem a little too stylized, but sewer beasts, or wendingos, or a bomb,
something with a gravitas to its wake, like that silent cortege of stumps
in Siberia, in the Taiga, what was Tunguska in 1908. That, I could wrap

my head around. No school, no work, no beach to scurry to away from,
I see a lot of people just staring at the sky. Walking around town in my
six foot bubble of separation I see a lot of things, but nothing desperate,
at least not today, or at least not yet anyway, that’ll come with the flies,

or when the liquor stores are locked and shuttered, and the dry it comes
in hard. The last, last straw. Windows are made for one purpose, really,
push come to shove, windows are made to break, to shower a sidewalk
with the shards of the new transactions, now that it’s been rearranged.



Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about our curtains. I want to open them, 
then I want to close them, I settle on open but I am unconvinced, I walk       
to the kitchen and I wash my hands. Today the number I need to know 
is 106, which is a larger number than yesterday, which was larger than

the day before. The digits are twisted like balloons, as the nightly news
broadcasts its warnings and careens from side to side. Six months from
now we’ll have been returned to a semblance of normality or else we’ll
be scratching at the earth with sharpened sticks, eyes peeled for a tuber 

or roots. I busy myself eying up the better branches. Our house, now,
is always full. Wife, kids, cat, and work, cat, kids, wife. The steps lead
somewhere, but where? I wake up and walk down the stairs and wash
my hands, feed our cat and the cat plopped on the porch outside. This

is my new commute. Someone has closed the curtains, which are deep,
deep red. I feel like I’m inside of a vein. Coursing. The word for today
is absentia. I heat up a cup of coffee, make a sour face like I’m working,
then look out a window to see the sun, all the parked cars and the cats.



Still, it seems inevitable. No matter how many times I wash my hands
the virus is somewhere waiting. It’s patient. Obsessively precise. Like 
an accountant or an actuary, as much as for exactly what the virus does 
as for what waiting on it makes of us. I need to anthropomorphize. I 

need to give it a face. Anthony Perkins. Nothing personal. I just woke
up and I thought, Anthony Perkins, the coronavirus is Anthony Perkins.
Now I can go about my day in peace. When I hear the mail jeep outside 
I feel just like a dog. And when I count I count to one hundred, but still

to me it’s like counting to zero. Tomorrow they’ll have me count more.
My failure is that I can’t not watch the news. I wouldn’t say that I pay it
too much attention but I need to have it on, or available. It’s like being
a methadone junkie, no kick but the kick of empty addiction. Usually, I

don’t even turn up the sound. Our cat, in the window, looks at the near
feral outside on the stoop, an entente is being agreed to. Our place, my
family’s, in this informal arrangement, has yet to be determined. Bets, I
can hear them being hedged. On the big board the odds keep changing.



We wipe down every surface here, only to wipe them all down again.
I’m eating a sandwich and I bite my tongue. This is what it boils down
to. Everyone is looking for someone to blame. Blame biology, blame
life. If I had an electron microscope I could at least start to look inside

of the envelope and satisfy some vague imperative. It’s a perfect day 
and the cats have moved from their porches out onto the lawns. I do 
a push-up and I count to zero, I wash my hands and I count to twenty, 
I walk outside and tomorrow moves another step closer, or away. At

this magnification it’s impossible to tell. I feel quantum. Birds do bird
things. I have no idea what the number is today so I just stroll across
the grass to feel it give a little bit beneath me, then I go further down, 
to where the creek straightens before making a run for it underneath

the cul de sac, and out the other side. I want to follow it as it moves 
through the dark. But there are surfaces that we need to wipe down 
first before we can wipe them down again. Nothing has prepared me
for the next step, whatever the next step is. We eat dinner, we begin.


for Joseph Wileczek

Huffy Plague


The wind today is in its checkers. Except for the dozen
or so crows that sound pissed off or dodgy, it looks like
everyone else is still inside. When I close my eyes I can
just about convince myself that I can see the virus as it 

scoots through our neighborhood on its 3-speed Huffy, 
a green Dragster with a banana seat and black gear ball.  
Things are starting to run off the rails. On the computer
a synthesized voice is pronouncing the word heresiarch

at exactly the same instant I’m thinking about a plague 
mask, and whether or not I have a hat that’ll pair well
with the beak. The numbness begins, first with a touch
of understanding, and then with the reality of disbelief.

An hour ago I pruned a shrub, or at least I think so, I’m
unclear as to the definitions. Branches were strewn all
over, flower parts, pieces of leaves, it was a butchering,
and I’m certain that I was being watched from the trees.

Huffy Plane


I wake up and it’s sort of the same place I fell asleep to
except we get a phone call and it’s obvious that it’s not. 
Yesterday three bald eagles wheeled through the skies 
above our house looking for all the world like three spy

planes from the Korean war. I really need this to mean 
something more. The animals are coming closer, foxes, 
bandersnatch, I saw something riding sidesaddle atop
Tonka the Cat our honorary feral and it’s only a matter 

of time until the lawn’s filled with huge turtles looking
to settle some scores. The jig, friends, is decidedly up.
Even the weather anymore is a text plucked fresh from 
the Talmud as if in welcome to this new, old Age. I run

to the street, then I stomp in a puddle and try to scare  
away the crows, but all I accomplish is to entertain our
letter carrier as she weaves through the line of parked
cars.  There’s a cleft in the sky, and a sound of thumbs.

Squirrel Lysol


My wife moves around the house in a meditative circle.  
The kids sleep, then sleep some more. I keep dreaming 
of this sandbox shaped like a turtle, and a warm, sunny 
day. Twitching across our backyard and over the roofs

of the cars the squirrels, too, stake their claim. I would
love to give every nurse a force field and maybe a crow
bar to boot. The essence of the thing is inward, it takes
one away, from what we had once postulated as other 

into a field of painterly abstraction. The odor of bitter
cleansing conceals the intricacies of the crosshatching
as the first, fat fly of the season drives our indoor cat 
insane. It’s not quite clear just what we’re actually up 

against here, I want to play through and see the back 
nine, go ape over a box full of Thai take-out and wake
into an effortless shine, the anxiety shed, stored away
and indexed according to a system we no longer know. 

Field of Wildflowers Rothko Untitled Black-on-Grey


Today I did the same things I did yesterday, tomorrow
I’ll do them again, it’s a closed loop I can’t fool myself 
free of, and another day of cold east coast gray. I find 
I keep thinking of Rothko, that we’re all trapped inside  

one of his late lunar landscapes and that any day with 
even the hint of sunshine is part memory, part dream.
To explode into color, like a spring field, I couldn’t pay
too steep a price, or simply to amble to the corner bar

and fasten myself to a stool, any corner, any bar, but
the compulsory however precludes, and correctly, I’m 
just a little punchy, is all. We all are. My son showed
me a picture of a small dog in an equally smallish New

York apartment, mid-lockdown, the dog was scowling,
and you could see it was working out its escape, costs 
be damned, a portrait of a terrified defiance fully alert   
to the fact that it had no hope, whatsoever, of success.

Cremation-Oven Little


The fires in a cremation oven max out at 1800 degrees.
It takes me a minute to fully grasp the fact that the cat 
on our porch is actually a raccoon. The ability to focus 
is in short supply, everything has a shelf-life, I’ve never

seen this many eggs in our house before, it’s practically 
obscene. After three hours in the oven all that remains
is about seven pounds of ash. It’s only a wall. What do
you make of the juxtaposition? Each day, an exception.

My wife and I are masked-up and walking in the woods
searching for mushrooms, I believe the warmth almost 
makes it worse.  Everywhere I look I see tiny fractures,  
a vague crazing I notice, first upon awakening, and it’s 

the last thing I see before I sleep, I want to ask around,
I want to ask Joe but I can’t, I can’t get the kids to go to
bed at night and I can’t wake them in the afternoon. I
weigh myself, positive that I’ve taken on seven pounds.

Jeffrey Little: “All things considered, I would rather be in Philadelphia, watching the Phillies swamp the Mets, eating a soft pretzel and drinking some ale. Heck, down the road in Wilmington watching the Blue Rocks, thinking of ale. Everybody’s missing something these days, or someone. This poem is thinking of them. For what it’s worth, I have three issues of Mudlark you could glance at, along with all the other fine issues housed there, now that you have the time. Also a poster; this poem makes it a Gordie Howe Hat Trick. I’ve always wanted to say that. I have two books of poetry from Spout Press (The Hotel Sterno and The Book of Arcana) and one from Rank Stranger Press (Five and Dime). I am supposed to thank the great, small State of Delaware for an established professional poetry grant. Thanks. Also, poems scampering here and there. Be well.”

Other Mudlarks by Jeffrey Little: The Secret Life of Nouns, Poster No. 154 (2018); Is Nature is as a Sound is as Zero is as the Hook Dog Blues, Issue No. 47 (2012); Biography As In Syntax: The Babble Poems, Issue No. 22 (2003); and crayola in arcana, Issue No. 15 (2000).

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