Thursday, May 3, 2018

Counting on . . . and on . . .

     Claudia Gary is an active and celebrated poet in the Washington, DC area and she has a lifelong interest in mathematics -- starting, she tells me, "at age 8 when my father gave me a copy of George Gamow's One, Two, Three, Infinity."  Her poem, "In Binary," offered below, was first published in Rattle and features her and poet Richard Moore (1927-2009) who also was fascinated by mathematics.  Enjoy the fun of counting on and on, in verse.

In Binary     by Claudia Gary

What brought them together were gifts without number,
but binary digits enticed them to stay.
A system that each had discovered in childhood
cemented their fate at an offbeat café.


For her it was somewhat like playing piano.
He would make loops as if stringing small beads.
Both had departed the realm of addition,
since shapes, such as hands, had geometry’s needs.

While nursing their coffee and ordering breakfast,
asking more questions and ordering tea,
learning how deeply their temperaments nested,
each counted on fingers to ten-twenty-three.  

Of course people have only so many digits.
Removing their shoes would be gauche, even here,
and even for souls who are clever and quirky.
He drummed on the table: “Ellipsis, my dear.”

Ellipsis? Why, yes—they continued on paper,
by phone and by auto, by train and by air,
till numbers approached, overtook, and divided
what seemed an ethereal, cosmic affair.

But while it continued, they often went walking
by sunlight or moonlight to see what they’d find.
They hung out with friends and they hid out together.
They listened to music, they cooked and they dined.

And strangely enough, though they had the occasion,
never did either one count (while alive)
on fingers and toes all the way to one million,
forty-eight thousand, five-seventy-five.             —from Rattle #58, Winter 2017

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