Six, Sex, Say

by Barbara Hamby

Do you think they wanted sex? asks the naive girl
        in the film about a femme fatale who betrays
just about everyone stupid enough to get involved
        with her, but since they are in New Zealand
it sounds like, Do you think they wanted six?
        which is another question altogether,
and I know if I were doing drugs I would think
        this was possibly a key to unraveling
the mysteries of the universe, because six in French
        is cease, which could mean stop
to one of another linguistic persuasion,
        as in cease and desist, though it could mean six
and desist, and you don’t have to study the Kabbala
        to know numbers are powerful, or how to explain
a system invented by Phoenician traders to keep track
        of inventory being used by Einstein,
Dirac, Bohr to describe the mechanics of the universe,
        and even the Marquis de Sade in his long exile
in the Bastille and other dungeons invented
        a numerical code to hide his hideous imagination
from the thought police in that particular patch
        of hell. Six, he might cry, but what would he mean,
especially if addressing his pregnant Italian
        mistress, because six is s-e-i in Italian,
pronounced say. Say what? you might say. Girlfriend,
        you don’t need drugs,
and you’re absolutely right,
a conclusion I myself came to rather quickly,
        because I’m crossing the Alps now like Psyche
on Cupid’s wings, and in German it’s s-e-c-h-s or sex again,
        in other words, sex of one, half a dozen of another,
which for not-so-unfathomable reasons recalls
        Rembrandt’s etching of his friend Jan Six
who later became mayor of Amsterdam, a bustling port
        in those days, and visited by one of the last ships
to leave Japan before it closed itself to the outside
        world, and Rembrandt buying the final shipment
of Japanese paper in the west for 200 years. I see
        him in his studio, counting each lovely sheet,
Jan Six perhaps in the next room smoking a pipe,
        and I don’t know what six is in Dutch,
but it’s taking its place in the circle of sixes
        girdling the globe, the Satanic triple six,
the two sixes in my college telephone number, the hidden
        sixes in every deck of cards. Two plus four,
three plus three,
chant the six-year-olds of the world,
        all their sixes adding up to something, or why
would the psychic have told my friend
        he would never have any money until his address
added up to six, because six is the money number,
        the mysterious key to regeneration,
if not the alpha then the omega, and I who am living
        at 15 quai de Bourbon know that one and five are six,
cease, sex, say, I’m in the money, if the money
        is Paris and I’m a fool walking her golden streets.