First there is the number I found affixed to the sole of her foot one summer night, as she slept, her hair cascading, her face calm in repose, the faraway hollow ringing of a bay buoy in the night air: 75365, printed on a tiny slip of paper. After a moment I realized that it was the number of the person who had inspected the new sandals my wife had worn that day, but for an arresting instant I thought I had found her secret number, her interior mathematical name, the parade of numerals that had worked its way to the surface of her skin after 30 years, and it sent me swimming into the sea of symbols that attempt to identify, quantify, specify her, to pin her down for a moment in her restless exuberant passage through time.

An impossible task.

She is unaccountable, and numbers slide off her like rain. No number catches her quick grin, the high-beam flash of her eyes, the leap of her mind, the grace of her hand in flight in table talk, the elegance of her neck beneath her gathered hair, the sharp whip-crack of her anger, the calm jumble of her limbs when she is asleep on a summer night, her hair cascading, the buoy bell silvering in the night, a sea breeze sifting through the screen door.

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, in Oregon. His essays and poems have appeared in The American Scholar, Commonweal, Manoa, Orion and Yankee, among other journals.