Today's poem honors nurse and statistician Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) and is found in a fine poetry collection by Mary Alexandra Agner, The Scientific Method.
After Math by Mary Alexandra Agner
Florence Nightingale, 1820-1910
Worth one thousand words, usually,
but thousands dead
were inked as a colored nautilus
with chambers counting corpses
by disease or sword or bullet.
Hold this shell to your ear;
hear only your heartbeat's echo.
Numbers never had such voice
until Florence drew
coxcomb wedges for the dead.
To the modern world,
pictures are not epiphanies.
Lump together all those bodies--
summed and graphed by hand--
and the nineteenth century
would ache with rot and TB
where today we see a piechart.
Nightingale, sing us the sweet song
of statistics, math made
to improve man's lot,
and of the sortie Dickens wrote,
his thousand thousand words
to overthrow your picture.
Sing up the ghosts of war
to we who are inured to what remains
after explosives and machine-gun fire.
Sketch the rows and columns of us, now,
that we might see ourselvesand plot to change.
"After Math" first appeared in Science Editor; The Scientific Method was published by Parallel Press in 2011. I learned of this collection via a review in American Scientist by mathematician and poet Sarah Glaz.Remember that April celebrates both poetry and mathematics. A posting of Mathematics Awareness Month activities may be found here. And check out other poetry conversations happening this National Poetry Month at Couplets where poet and blogger Joanne Merriam is featuring a guided tour of a variety of poetry blogs.