Saturday, December 14, 2013

Amounting to Something

From the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of Poet Lore, a poem by David Wagoner about the arithmetic of expectations:

     Amounting to Something     by David Wagoner

     You were supposed to do that
     by saving yourself up
               like coins in a pig rescued
               just in time sometimes
     from in front of the candy counter  
     or the desk in the corridor
               at school with those stick pretzels,
               and you had to think of yourself
     having a face with hair
     on its cheeks and upper lip
               and a permanent girlfriend
               who would have some regular babies
     just like you and her,
     so you had to learn how to add
               and multiply and subtract
               and long-divide and read
     and write as fast and as neat
     as a teacher and remember
               what happened when and why
               and go to sleep in a hurry,
     get up and brush your smile,
     pick up your feet and be sure
               you had your zipper zipped
               and never let Mr. Dirt
     stay under your fingernails
     and keep those ugly questions
               and wisecracks and personal
               wrong answers to yourself.

Wagoner's poetry has been with me for years  -- and I imagine that we almost met on some Western Pennsylvania roadway when I was milking cows near Indiana, PA and he was a calculus student at Penn State University.  Back in 2001, I included his poem, "The Calculation" in a small anthology entitled Numbers and Faces that I gathered for the Humanistic Mathematics Network (see also my blog posting for 28 May 2013).

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