Thursday, March 19, 2015

Multiplied by Rain

     There are many mathematical terms that are used in daily life -- not only multiplied and divided and negative but also closure and identity and field and commute -- and it is fun for me, a math person, to see poets use such terms in new and thoughtful ways.
     Poet Jane Hirschfield weaves words into fine tapestries that give us new dimensions of meaning.  The Table of Contents of her new book, The Beauty (Knopf, 2015), is scattered with mathematical terms -- we find zero, plus, subtraction,  and the final title, "Like Two Negative Numbers Multiplied by Rain."  This poem first appeared in Poetry (2012) and is available at the Poetry Foundation website along with more than thirty additional Hirshfield poems.

Like Two Negative Numbers Multiplied by Rain   by Jane Hirshfield

     Lie down, you are horizontal.
     Stand up, you are not. 

     I wanted my fate to be human.

     Like a perfume
     that does not choose the direction it travels,
     that cannot be straight or crooked, kept out or kept.

     Yes, No, Or
     —a day, a life, slips through them,
     taking off the third skin,
     taking off the fourth.

     And the logic of shoes becomes at last simple,
     an animal question, scuffing.

     Old shoes, old roads—
     the questions keep being new ones.
     Like two negative numbers multiplied by rain
     into oranges and olives.

Here is a link to my 2010 posting of Hirshfield's poem "Mathematics" -- and this post for October 14, 2013 offers a few lines from --  and a link to -- a Hirshfield poem-with-numbers in the New Yorker.

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