In his collection, Zero, Scottish poet Brian McCabe raises questions about numerical classifications. He begins "The Fifth Season" with "Everyone talks of the four / -- none speak of the fifth." Another poem, "The Seventh Sense, " moves from a similar beginning " . . . none speak of the seventh" into a dreamy apprehension of the magical possibilities of items not yet classified. The following selection from Zero, "Triskaidekaphobia," offers remedies for the fear of bad luck brought by 13.
Triskaidekaphobia by Brian McCabe
In order to help you overcome your fear
of what the Chinese call the Lord of Distress,
I suggest you try confrontation therapy.
So, on Black Friday, the day of Christ's death --
and yes, the thirteenth apostle betrayed him --
which also, as you have said, happens to be
you and your wife's thirteenth anniversary,
of which you live in so much dread,
we really have the ideal opportunity.
I want you to reserve a room in the Pyramid Hotel.
Unlike many, it has the floor -- before you go in,
you must count them, from the ground --
and a room number 1313. On that date it is free
-- I have checked -- and you will find the rates
to be very reasonable indeed.
You must invite eleven guests -- no more, no less.
The centrepiece at dinner should be a pineapple --
count the rows of scales sloping up to the right.
I want you to request that any flowers sent
have the requisite number of petals:
black-eyed Susans; corn marigolds, ragwort.
Read the Cabala to your guests -- the section
about Paradise, the Heavenly Fountains,
the Gates of Mercy, the Rivers of Balsam.
This will be your phobia's last supper.
I'm afraid I can't -- I'll be away.
Good luck and happy anniversary.
My review of Zero (Polygon, 2009) is in the November 2011 issue of the Scottish ezine, The Bottle Imp; I've posted other McCabe poems on 2 November 2011, 27 November 2011, and 8 December 2011. Sarah Glaz's poem "I am a Number" in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics also addresses the personalities that numbers may have. And here is a link to several more tales of thirteen.