Wednesday, October 2, 2019

"My number is . . ."

    More than twenty years ago I found and admired Montana poet Sandra Alcosser's poem, "My Number" (included in Except by Nature, Graywolf, 1998) -- and I included it in a small anthology, Numbers and Faces, that I edited; (published in 2001 by the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics).  "My Number" also has more recently also been included in Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics  (Edited by Glaz and Growney: AK Peters/CRC Press, 2008).

My Number     by Sandra Alcosser
I’m linked with the fate of the world’s disasters 
and only have a little freedom to live or die.
My number is small.  An hundred pounds of water,
A quart of salt.  Her digit is a garment.

I wear her like a shadow.  We judge each other,
My number and I.  She is the title.  The license.

The cash drawer.  My random number.
She protects me from myself.  She desires me.

She says she’s only one of thirty million species.
She wishes she were more than anecdotal evidence.

Being human she can erect elaborate scaffolding
To protect her emotions, can make an excuse of obvious

Dramatic proportions.  My number is inconsequential
With dreams of glory.  She spends three or four days each year

just opening her mail.. Do you know how many animals
Will be given lethal injections while you read this poem.

Five billion people = half a billion empty bellies.
If there is a god, why can’t that god be smaller than my number.

Tiny, soft-spoken so she’d have to pay attention.
My number is a female impersonator (she has multiple meanings).

Her shape is misleading,  The further she is from unity, the more deeply
Involved with the world,  Like the winds and the grasses, she wears 
          herself down.   

She lies under hot flags of lilies, sings like a bee.
She gets so lonely she recites for her cat.  She makes her face up

Like a death mask.  She hangs her dresses on the clothesline outside.
Together we dance — my number and her best dresses.

     Alcosser is a poet whom I admire both for her poetry AND for her conservation activities.  She is the first Conservation Poet for the Wildlife Conservation Society and Poets House, an honor awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts, and was Montana’s first poet laureate. 

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