Sunday, November 24, 2013

Algebra cadabra

It was my good fortune to meet Colette Inez back in the early 1990s when she was poet-in-residence at Bucknell University. Then, as now, I was collecting poems-with-mathematics, and I have long loved this poem that weaves figuring into forests.

Forest Children     by Colette Inez

We heard swifts feeding in air,
sparrows ruffling dusty feathers,
a tapping on stones, mud, snow, pulp
when rain came down, the hiss of fire.
Counting bird eggs in a dome of twigs,
we heard trees fall and learned
to name them on a page for school. 

And living among trees, in the shadows
of their leaves and seeds, we had
the mystery of numbers, we believed,
from figuring angles of the sun
or counting stumps in a widening field.
Each day saws subtracted boughs
for books of double algebra, equations
in a text we carried home
past hacked down pines.

Conjuring the spirit of the grove,
in a circle we sang:
“Mark out planes of shade and light
that seedlings might root.”
One morning in spring
trees showed winter skeletons
through smoke, abrupt curves, bent oak.
We were stripped of words to cast a spell.

“Algebra cadabra,” someone shouted
pointing to a vanished nest
we remembered as braided of moss,
ivy tendrils and spider’s silk.

“Forest Children”  first appeared in Eight Minutes from the Sun (Saturday Press, 1983) and later in Getting Under Way: New and Selected Poems (Story Line Press, 1992).  This poem by Inez was previously posted in this blog on 7 April 2011.

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