Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Joys of Mathematics

   The Joys of Mathematics     by Peter Boyle

   At fifty I will begin my count towards the infinite numbers.

   At negative ninety nine I will start my walk towards the
      infinitesimally small.

   At one over twenty seven I will inspect the first bridgeworks.

   At twenty two over seven I will write a message in a bottle,
      entrust it to a sea turtle, slip back under a wave and sleep.

   At eighty seven sparrows will land on the windowsill, pecking
      a hole that leads inside my arm.

   At 127 I will begin to arrange the children’s pillows, carefully
      filling each one with warm handfuls of snow.

   At ten to the negative six our friends from the White House
      will arrive, handing out glass beads and broken shells filled
      with recently perfected poisons.

  At the inverse square of sixteen the sky will curve over blue lakes,
      songbirds settle at dusk, a small train rattles off towards a
      village that leans against a single church spire.

   At one over negative twenty two I will start to dream in Sanskrit,
      creating a swarm of brown ants to bring back a baby’s rattle
      from the edge of a mud slide.

   At ten to negative two over three I will open my heart, letting go
      of all vanities, right down to the wilted bones.

   At the third transfinite number I will give up easy answers.

   At e to the i pi the earth will bristle with skulls and weapons,
      dolphins will proclaim the first inter-stellar arms bazaar in
      Antarctica, the new born will drink only lead, the elderly
      will wander the moon in the quest for warmth.

   At one I will open my eyes.

   At zero I will put the key back under the mat.

Peter Boyle is an Australian poet, living in Sydney.  "The Joys of Mathematics" is in his collection Coming home from the world (Five Islands Press, 1994).  Many of his poems are available on the Internet -- at Poetry International Web and at the Australian Poetry Library.

Boyle's opening "count towards the infinite numbers" links in my mind to the "eternity" of a recent poem by Mark Strand -- "Provisional Eternity," found in the June 13 and 20, 2011 issue of The New Yorker.   Strand's poem ends with a wonderful recurrence relation: 

       "What don't you want to end?" said the woman.
       This," said the man, "this never wanting it to end."

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