37 trillion.Night Sky
Is that the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy?
No, not even close, that’s a paltry 100 billion.
Is it the US national debt?
Closer, but not quite.

This unfathomable figure is the average number of cells in a human body.
All sprung forth from one
Dividing, dividing, growing exponentially over 265 days, give or take
a technicolor photo developing in a darkroom, in a chemical bath
a unique mix of heat, agitation, time
and whether the one providing oxygen and nutrients
ate an avocado, or ice cream, or spicy Tikka Masala
whether they got enough folate and calcium
whether they played music to their belly or passed on genetic trauma,
whether they were running a temperature, or running scared

46 packets of DNA, programmed to come together in 23 matched pairs
but since when has everyone at the dance had a partner?
There are those who hold hands in a circle, those who improvise,
some who groove alone

All of those variables,
all of those whirling combinations of chemicals and chromosomes
of molecules and Mozart, hormones and mitochondria,
tissues brimming with electric connections--
The billions of different ways an individual can pop out,
and then the trillions of things we hear, see, read, learn, think, eat, feel, touch, know
All of that
and some still insist
there are exactly
two ways to be?
Two colors, ignoring an endless spectrum.
Two tastes, as if we have forgotten our tongues
Two words, denying that we are epic poems.

When my child was in my womb, floating in that small ocean
I knew they held an entire galaxy within
yes, because of the star stuff
those six little Lego blocks
with which all life on Earth is built
the carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and phosphorus
flung across space when some ancient star went supernova
reconfigured billions of times as amoebae and crustaceans, as seaweed and ferns,
as pterosaurs and tangerines and trilobites and troglodites
until coalescing, for now, as this particular tiny human
yes, the stardust
but also the staggering possibilities

300 million skin cells
the tickles, the kisses, the high fives, the hugs
and every seven years you get a new full set
3 billion heart cells
the passions, the care, the yearning, the adrenaline,
experiencing emotions like
laughter through tears
10 billion nerve cells in a gelatinous brain
synapses firing
interpreting signals, sending instructions
learning, speaking, singing, joking, writing, wondering why

“Mom, tell me nine things that are infinite.”
it is almost midnight, and my six-year-old knows just how to stall bedtime.

“Space,” I say, glancing at the stars projected on the ceiling, wondering if my child will really be, as they confidently assert, the first kid on Mars.

“Time,” I sigh, as it stretches back behind us and forward in front of us and also all around us because how did she get to be old enough to contemplate infinity when I gave birth perhaps a year ago?

“Numbers,” of course. This one is enamored with numbers, counting and adding and multiplying and making careful worksheets for me to complete. He may well become the first person I know to count to a million.

“Songs you can sing,” I smile. “Your name means my garden, or my song. You are my favorite song.”
“Sing me a lullabye, like when I was younger. The North Wind.” I gladly comply.

“Stories you can tell,” I laugh, because we create stories together all the time, now. Mostly silly ones about monkeys and elephants, or superheroes and villains, but sometimes tales of who we want to be.
“Ways to cook food,” I murmur, remembering their pride and excitement while helping to make pancakes that morning. They spilled a messy constellation of flour on the counter, and their eyes twinkled like mischievous stars.

“Art you can make,” I observe. We have created an artist, one who produces portraits and landscapes and still lifes and sculptures and characters and comics nearly every waking moment. Her hands are little impressionist palettes, colors smudged into each other like dusk, or dawn.

“Love is infinite,” I say, “and hope.”

“Mom,” my child scolds, like I haven’t finished the assignment, “love and hope are the same thing.”