Bio Note: Here are two math poems for the cruelest month. (Though we've had a lot of cruelest months lately.) As the poems will reveal, I'm not very good at math. Since this is Poetry Month, I'll leave it to readers to decide if I'm much good at anything else. Meantime, In the Muddle of the Night by Betsy Mars and me has been published by Arroyo Seco Press. This, alone, gives me some hope and joy.
The nth degree
A mathematically specious phrase intended to convey that something is raised to a very high level (as in "to the nth degree"), where "n" is assumed to be a relatively high number even though by definition it is unspecified and may be large or small.We say we’re testing the limits but if we’re honest we’ve already scaled them in our heads and they’re not nearly as Himalayan as we like to let on— otherwise we’d have selected let’s say, the 3rd degree, which would challenge at least what little mettle’s left in us in this time of lowered expectations for those who mangle math, as well as the rest of mankind. Truth is, in the meager math I learned, the nth can be any degree I might choose to solve for, though I know from a close look at those strange Celtic languages, unless you have a vowel it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between nth and nthng— though the teacher insists there’s no such thing as nothing when I’m called on and that’s all I have to offer. You’re exactly why God invented zero, she tells my silence, much to my shame— and the delight of others who sit by with a relieved sigh, basking in the joy of owning a name that hasn’t yet been called.
Originally published in The Moon Magazine
Time and Distance
Two trains leave Whoville and Anytown at noon and the teacher tells us to figure when they’ll meet, not to mention if the bodies will be laid aside the tracks, or they’ll be carted off in refrigerated trucks— so much for the beauty and synergy of math. Then, soon as we realize it’s not us on a train bound for oblivion, it’s only our canned goods lined up on the patio table to be scrubbed and bleached, and we watch as the labels fade in the warm spring sun. After a while we can’t tell the garbanzos from the pigeon peas. Yes, we hoped for the taste of some future hummus, but maybe those nasty limas could be sufficient for now— if only this doesn’t turn out to be the rest of our lives, and it’s just another maddening and unscheduled stop.
Originally published in Red Wolf Journal
©2021 Alan Walowitz
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