June Jordan's poem "Problems of Translation: Problems of Language" (found at PoetryFoundation.org) uses numbers and measurements from an atlas as her starting point for describing the difficulty of understanding between those of us separated by distance or language.
I am writing this on the day after the Super Bowl, particularly conscious of the fact that I do not know the language of football. And that many others do not know the language of mathematics. Let us try hard to understand those things that are beyond language.
Here is the first section (of eight) from Jordan's poem:
Problems of Translation: Problems of Language by June Jordan
Dedicated to Myriam Diaz-Diocaretz
I turn to my Rand McNally Atlas.
Europe appears right after the Map of the World.
All of Italy can be seen page 9.
Half of Chile page 29.
I take out my ruler.
In global perspective Italy
amounts to less than half an inch.
Chile measures more than an inch and a quarter
of an inch.
Chile is as long as China
Back to the Atlas:
Chunk of China page 17.
All of France page 5: As we say in New York:
Who do France and Italy know
at Rand McNally?
This poem (found in its entirety along with thirteen others of Jordan's poems at PoetryFoundation.org) appears in Directed by Desire, Copper Canyon Press, 2005).
In 2000 (while I was a student at Hunter College) I had the privilege of hearing June Jordan (1936-2002) read. Her personality was fierce and full of pointed humor; her reading was spirited; her words shouted for human rights.
Not only during February but throughout the year, the Poetry Foundation's array of "Poems to Celebrate Black History Month" is a valuable resource. Previous postings in this blog related to "Black History" include those made on 2 February 2011, 20 February 2011, 18 February 2012, and 2 October 2012 .