» Poetry

Earth’s Weight

He knows we uproot burdock

and hack down the musky trees of heaven.

He knows we kill mosquitoes,

but spare the killer spiders. He knows

how cats and opossums look

when they get run over: slick loops

of veined intestines, bulged eyes

and choked-out tongues. He knows

the living die, but do not want to die:

worm tugged thin from dirt to bird;

hooked fish muscling for the water;

scared pig scuffing against the ramp.

He knows we humans die, and kill

our own. He knows what soldiers are,

what warplanes do. He is four

and he also knows numbers:

a hundred and twenty-five pounds,

his mother. Sixty minutes, one long hour.

Three million people, the city of Chicago.

He’s four, and lately wants to know wars:

“Tell me a war, Daddy.” I name one,

and he wants the number of people killed.

The Civil War: six hundred thousand.

“Is that more than a thousand?

Can you count that many? Tell me

another war.” And another. He pays

attention. Vietnam: more than two million.

World War Two: at least forty million.

“That’s a lot, isn’t it?” Later he’ll ask, “Why?”

and we’ll talk about money, land, hate,

and following orders, but right now

all he wants is the name of a war

and the numbers of the killed—numbers

so vast you couldn’t count them

in a single lifetime, like the number

to tally earth’s weight—a number he loves

to tell and tell: six point six sextillion tons.


Matthew Murrey


Matthew Murrey’s poems have appeared in many journals such as Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, and Under a Warm Green Linden. He received an NEA Fellowship in Poetry a number of years ago, and his debut poetry collection, Bulletproof, selected by Marilyn Nelson, was published in 2019 by Jacar Press. Murrey is a high school librarian in Urbana, Illinois, where he lives with his partner. They have two adult sons.