The Number That Will Be

The other day, I woke up and on my way to class decided to stop and buy some coffee. I was in dire need of both the warmth and the energy. On my way out of the library, I glanced over at the T.V. screen which read, “48 Dead in California Camp Fire.” While the news is often somber or upsetting, this fire stood out to me because of the high number of people who had passed away. 48 people is such a high number of casualties, and with injuries and people in hospitals, the number was bound to rise. I went on with my day, reflecting on the California fire and the fact that 48 people had lost their lives.   

In class that day, I sipped my coffee and dissected the poem, “Logic” in Percival Everett’s work, re: f(gesture).  In the sixth stanza, Everett writes, “Seven men lost but not seven. Seven is, will be. All men will die but not seven.” At first glance, I thought that this was a simple play on words. While seven men can die, the word “seven” alone will not die. Everett was emphasizing that words can’t be killed. However, after bouncing ideas off of others in the group, we collectively realized that Everett might be hinting at something far more complex.  

After a closer look, our group came to a different conclusion. People involved in tragedies can be forgotten, yet the numbers involved in disasters are usually emphasized and engraved in societies brains. As I was discovering the possible underlying meaning of the poem, I realized that I had proved the concept that morning. I knew that 48 people had died in the California fires, but I could not tell you one fact about those people. I did not know their names, families, personalities, jobs, or hobbies. While the people in the California fire passed away, the number 48 was given attention, and in a weird way, the number was living.   

If this was Everett’s intended message, the stanza could be interpreted as a challenge. Perhaps Everett is calling on us to look less at the numbers involved in catastrophes and look more into the people. Should  the number of people killed be the element of disaster that lives? Will it ever be possible for society to remember the actual  people involved in disasters? Everett is tapping into many complex ideas that I have never considered. There is never a dull moment when reading Everett’s work.  

Today, I walked to the library, yet again, to buy a cup of coffee. The California wildfire yet again dominated the news and unfortunately, the death toll had risen to 76. 76 is the new number receiving attention, the number that will be, and the number that will not die.

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