Numbers out of thick air

“O thank the lord, go thank the lord.
The numbers started falling down.
The wave is passing out of here,
The deaths are moving out of town.”

We stood behind the mango trees
That line the border of the grounds
Where Hindus come to burn their dead
With holy chants and drumming sounds.

I asked him what the number was.
He asked me how I didn’t know.
I shrugged and said I skip the news.
He shook his head, “It’s twelve or so.”

I laughed a laugh that sounded rude;
Indeed I saw some angry eyes.
“How large is this ‘or so’ of yours?
Is fifty-five its unit size?”

He started pointing at my face.
I pointed at the rising smoke.
“For every morning, last two weeks,
The sky was burning when I woke.

“The sky was burning when I lunched,
The sky was burning when I slept,
The sky was burning even when
The clouds, in passing, flashed and wept.”

He saw the smoke and saw my eyes.
“It could be something else too, right?
It cannot be the only cause.
Perhaps some lost their cancer fight?”

I knew he knew, but asked him still,
“How often does the sky look so
For days on end with no reprieve?”
He let a sighing “Never” go.

I knew he knew, but asked him still,
“How many holy grounds are there?
On just this side of Berhampur?”
He mouthed aloud a silent prayer.

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