They asked me if the finger-counting's new
or something that I tend to do—they're vague
and tentative in how they speak to you,
with softened eyes and breathy bedrock tones
—when anxious or when under feeling under stress.
The habit started late in life.
My fingers scan each syllable they read,
(Welcome to Psychiatric Services.)
write, overhear. Pentameters, spondees,
trochees, a spoken enjambment, a pause.
(More brochures are available up front.)
The counting's not relief. If the rhythm's not
quite right and rephrasing fails, the world
feels stuck until a sentence intercedes—
from radio or glancing in a book
—and then the pattern fits a waiting form.
You calm. When you're released you want to drive
the frontage road and count instead the stars
set deep within the sky's low darkened blue.
Reprinted from Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry 2015.