Monday, June 20, 2011

Something for nothing

     Among my favorite mathematical ideas are the seeming-paradoxes -- notions that require a twist and a turn and a leap before one can say "aha."  Using a symbol for "nothing" is one of those leap-requiring ideas.  I don't remember when I first understood zero, but I have enjoyed watching my children -- and now grandchildren -- grapple with ideas of things that are absent rather than present. 
     Here, from Hailey Leithauser, is a poem  that celebrates the cipher. 

   0      by Hailey Leithauser

   in its complex, ovoid emptiness,
   a skillful pundit coined it as a sort
     of stopgap doorstop for those
                    quaint equations

                    Romans never
   dreamt of. In form completely clever
   and discrete—a mirror come unsilvered,
      loose watch face without the works,
                    a hollowed globe

                    from tip to toe
   unbroken, it evades the grappling
   hooks of mass, tilts the thin rim of no thing,
      remains embryonic sum,

"0" first appeared in Poetry (January 2003).  A history of zero may be found here.

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