Sometimes a mathematical phrase offers a splendid concentration of meaning in an otherwise non-mathematical poem. This is the case in the poem below by Taylor Mali, teacher and slam poet.
Undivided Attention by Taylor Mali
A grand piano wrapped in quilted pads by movers,
tied up with canvas straps—like classical music’s
birthday gift to the criminally insane—
is gently nudged without its legs
out an eighth‐floor window on 62nd street.
It dangles in April air from the neck of the movers’ crane,
Chopin-‐shiny black lacquer squares
and dirty white crisscross patterns hanging like the second‐to‐last
note of a concerto played on the edge of the seat,
the edge of tears, the edge of eight stories up going over—
it’s a piano being pushed out of a window
and lowered down onto a flatbed truck!—and
I’m trying to teach math in the building across the street.
Who can teach when there are such lessons to be learned?
All the greatest common factors are delivered by
long‐necked cranes and flatbed trucks
or come through everything, even air.
See, snow falls for the first time every year, and every year
my students rush to the window
as if snow were more interesting than math,
which, of course, it is.
Let me teach like a Steinway,
spinning slowly in April air,
so almost-‐falling, so hinderingly
dangling from the neck of the movers’ crane.
So on the edge of losing everything.
Let me teach like the first snow, falling.
“Undivided Attention” is found in What Learning Leaves (Hanover Press, 2002) and is also available on Taylor Mali's website, along with others of his poems.