Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Role of Zero

     In mathematics, as in poetry, multiple meanings are common and create power for the language.   For example, the number 0 is an idempotent element, an additive identity, a multiplicative annihilator -- and it also plays the role of something that may represent nothing.
     In Dorothea Tanning's poem below -- I found it at -- zero takes on still another of its roles, that of place-holder -- as in the numbers 101 and 5000, for example.

       Zero     by Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012)

       Now that legal tender has
                    lost its tenderness,
       and its very legality
               is so often in question.
       it may be time to consider
       the zero--
                    long rows of them.
            empty, black circles in clumps
                              of three, 
       presided over by a numeral
                              or two.
       Admired, even revered,
       these zeros
               of imaginary money
            the open gaze of innocents

       like a vision of earthly paradise.

       Now the zero has
       a new name:
                    The Economy.

This poem is from Tanning's collection Coming to That  (Graywolf Press, 2011).
Additional poems with zero may be found in these posts: 24 December 2014 and 2 November 2011

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