Monday, November 18, 2013

Counting responses

At the Poetry Foundation website, poet Audre Lorde (1934-1992) is described thus:

               A self-styled "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," 
               writer Audre Lorde dedicated both her life 
               and her creative talent to confronting and addressing 
               the injustices of racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Here is a counting poem by this fine, bold poet:

     The Art of Response      by Audre Lorde

     The first answer was incorrect
     the second was
     sorry      the third trimmed its toenails
     on the Vatican steps
     the fourth went mad
     the fifth
     nursed a grudge until it bore twins
     that drank poisoned grape juice in Jonestown
     the sixth      wrote a book about it
     the seventh
     argued a case before the Supreme Court
     against taxation on Girl Scout Cookies
     the eighth held a news conference
     while four Black babies
     and one other      picketed New York City
     for a hospital bed to die in
     the ninth and tenth swore
     Revenge on the Opposition
     and the eleventh dug their graves
     next to Eternal Truth
     the twelfth
     processed funds from a Third World country
     that provides doctors for Central Harlem
     the thirteenth
     the fourteenth sold cocaine and shamrocks
     near a toilet in the Big Apple circus
     the fifteenth
     changed the question.

I have this poem on my bookshelf in Our Dead Behind Us:  Poems by Audre Lorde (W W Norton, 1994).  Each time I read it I am reminded of how important it is in mathematics, as well as in life, to ask the right questions.  Sometimes we do.  Sometimes we are wrong, at first, and learn to change.

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