Sunday, May 20, 2012

Before calculators we did more counting!

One of many sources of good poetry online is American Life in Poetry, collected by former U S Poet Laureate Ted Kooser.  In Column 368, Kooser offers "Numbers" by New Jersey poet, Jared Harel (first published Fall 2010 in The Cold Mountain Review).  Kooser's introduction notes, "My mother kept a handwritten record of every cent she spent from the day she and my father were married until the day she died. So it’s no wonder I especially like this poem  . . . " 

     Numbers     by Jared Harel

     My grandmother never trusted calculators.
     She would crunch numbers in a spiral notebook
     at the kitchen table, watching her news.
     Work harder and I’d have more to count,
     she’d snap at my father. And so my father worked
     harder, fixed more mufflers, gave her receipts 

     but the numbers seldom changed.
     There were silky things my mother wanted,
     glorious dinners we could not afford.

     Grandma would lecture her: no more garbage,
     and so our house was clean. The attic spotless.
     In fact, it wasn’t until after she died

     that my parents found out how much she had saved us.
     What hidden riches had been kept in those notebooks,
     invested in bonds, solid blue digits
     etched on each page. She left them
     in the kitchen by her black and white television
     we tossed a week later, though it seemed to work fine.

I grew up (mid-20th-century) on a farm in Western Pennsylvania and one of my own poems describes the centrality of numbers in that life; from my collection, My Dance is Mathematics, here is "Things to Count On."  

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