Sunday, September 4, 2011

Applying statistics . . .

From Seattle poet Kathleen Flenniken, a sensitive application of the normal distribution to the population of participants in an elementary school recorder recital:

   The Beauty of the Curve     by Kathleen Flenniken

   The curtain lifts on Bryant Elementary School's
   Spring Recorder Recital.  Ninety third-graders
   fumble with their instruments, take a breath

   and blow.  Their parents, braced, breathe too
   as "Hot Crossed Buns" emerges, a little scattershot --
   the Normal Distribution brought to life.

   By "Go Tell Aunt Rhodie," the audience
   is moved by their sheer pretty-goodness,
   though one kid knocks her music to the floor

   and another squeaks to demonstrate
   the tail below two standard deviations
   below the mean.  The curve inplies

  that somewhere on stage another kid
   just played a note so sweet he might shatter
   Mrs. Wedermeyer's glasses.  And if

   there are a mother and father who think
   that child is theirs, may they be forgiven,
   even if the child shining in their eyes

   is moving his fingers slightly out of rhythm,
   even if he's never led the bell curve in his life.
   In consecutive measures of almost unison

   it's easy to believe these children are musicians.
   Their parents do, so stirred by "Ode to Joy"
   they rise to their feet with the final phrase,

   clapping from the darkened auditorium
   at once, as one, heroically, like the parents
   they've meant to be.

"The Beauty of the Curve" is found in Flenniken's collection, Famous (University of Nebraska, 2006) -- winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry .