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Six, Sex, Say Poem

Six, Sex, Say Poem By Barbara Hamby

Do you think they wanted sex? asks the naïve girl in the film
about a femme fatale who betrays
just about everyone stupid enough to get involved with her,
but since they are in New Zealand
it sounds like, Do you think they wanted six? which is another
question altogether,
and I know if I were doing drugs I would think this was
possibly a key to unraveling
the mysteries of the universe, because six is cease in French,
which could mean stop
to one of another linguistic persuasion, as in cease and desist,
though it could mean six
and desist, and you don’t have to study the kabbala to know
numbers are powerful, or how to explain
a system invented by Phoenician traders to keep track of
inventory being used by Einstein,
Dirac, Bohr to describe the mechanics of the universe, and
even the Marquis de Sade in his long exile
in the Bastille and other dungeons invented a numerical
code to hide his hideous imagination
from the thought police in that particular patch of hell. Six,
he might cry, but what would he mean,
especially if addressing his pregnant Italian mistress, because
six is s-e-i in Italian,
pronounced say. Say what? you might exclaim. Girlfriend,
you don’t need drugs, and you’re absolutely right,
a conclusion I came to myself rather quickly, because I’m
crossing the Alps now on Psyche’s wings,
and in German its s-e-c-h-s, or sex again, in other words, sex
of one, half a dozen of another,
which for not-so-unfathomable reasons recalls Rembrandt’s
etching of his friend Jan Six,
who later became mayor of Amsterdam, a bustling port in
those days, and visited by one of the last ships
192 ~ Poetr y Daily

to leave Japan before it closed itself to the outside world, and
Rembrandt buying the final shipment
of Japanese paper in the West for two hundred years. I see
him in his studio, counting each lovely sheet,
Jan Six perhaps in the next room smoking a pipe, and I don’t
know what six is in Dutch,
but it’s taking its place in the girdle of sixes circling the
globe, the satanic triple-six,
the two sixes in my college telephone number, the hidden
sixes in every deck of cards.
Two plus four, three plus three, chant the six-year-olds,
of the world,
all their sixes adding up to something, or why would the
psychic have told my friend
he would never have any money until his address added up
to six, because six is the money number,
the mysterious key to regeneration, if not the alpha then the
omega, and I who am living
at 15 quai de Bourbon know one and five are six, cease, sex,
say, and I’m in the money, if the money
is Paris and I a fool walking her golden streets.

Barbara Hamby
first published in The Southern Review, vol. 37, no. 1, Winter 2001

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