Last Wednesday evening the WordWorks-sponsored poetry reading, "Poets vs the Pandemic," brought back to my attention Pennsylvania poet Le Hinton who read from his recent collection, Sing Silence, and also some newer work. Here is Hinton's very special poem about kids learning math.
Uses of Cotton (Eraser) by Le Hinton
When my brother tells the story,
he forgets to mention the sock, black
and worn. Mom darned it in three places;
Dad used it as an eraser.
I never leave out the part
about his teaching
us numbers. When to add.
How to subtract.
He set up a blackboard in the back-
yard and wrote problems on it. Even invited
the neighborhood kids. We earned a piece
of candy for each one we got right.
standing at the blackboard doing math
and hoping never to need the eraser,
hoping to taste a Tootsie Roll.
Back then I didn’t know the whole story:
How Mom and Dad sat at the Formica table
in our yellow kitchen as he counted his jobs
and the money from each one while Mom mended
the holes in our socks. We slept upstairs
and never worried or counted sheep
knowing they’d always fix the holes,
at least until we learned to do the math ourselves.