Population Density

Upwards of a million people live in the single square mile of gulley and track called Kibera. The number is staggering. Almost inconceivable. Each face, each flooded trench, each rusted corner of corrugated tin multiplied again. And again. And again. How do we count past a few dozen, a hundred or so at the upper end? A family, a clan, maybe a gathering of the tribes. Beyond that, names bleed into one another. Their associated lives press down in shifting layers, superimposing, becoming indistinct. How do we remember who matters to us? Who is dangerous and who is a friend? Who belongs to whom?
 
Who counts?
 
Seven thousand miles over land and sea, the plane circles in on our city. From above, we place the river, a muddy shadow like an erasure through a canvas of lights. We see the photo negative of our home. Black through gold, we mark our coordinates and draw a frame. That must be west. One fishnet stocking hugs the cool leg of a monument that never fails to center our gaze and still the spinning needle.
 
Nestled between strands of gemstone necklace and glittering beam is our chosen address. The place is our belonging, both the what and the where of our claim. The shadow there, between bridge shiver and engine thrum, is ours.
 
Both our heads turn the same way. We peer as if of single vision, contriving sharp edges despite mar and blur through the pressurized plastic window. It does not crack no matter how hard I push.
 
Which I won’t.
 
I won’t.
 
Instead, days later, I look up. Up from the teeming ground. From my open-breath, 5000 people-per-square-mile home. These cards in my hand, the luck of the draw. I lift my eyes up from the latticework brick that forever buoys my well-shod feet even when so heavy they fall, and catch
 
silver glint against blue, the sun cracking hard against the place I dared not lean
 
and look backwards through leagues of sky to the soft underbelly of cloud. Look further still, through the scuffed plexiglas pinhead. There, a fleeting fortune. 11D, E, F. An accident of place.
 
From this distance I still see you tucking around me like one.
One and one.
One whose face in any crushing riot, any burning land, I seek. One who counts
as ordinal first. One I count
on to draw in light
and its absence the improbable land
of us.
 

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