Image
NUMBERS
by Mary Cornish

I like the generosity of numbers.
The way, for example,
they are willing to count
anything or anyone:
two pickles, one door to the room,
eight dancers dressed as swans.

I like the domesticity of addition—
add two cups of milk and stir—
the sense of plenty: six plums
on the ground, three more
falling from the tree.

And multiplication’s school
of fish times fish,
whose silver bodies breed
beneath the shadow
of a boat.

Even subtraction is never loss,
just addition somewhere else:
five sparrows take away two,
the two in someone else’s
garden now.

There’s an amplitude to long division,
as it opens Chinese take-out
box by paper box,
inside every folded cookie
a new fortune.

And I never fail to be surprised
by the gift of an odd remainder,
footloose at the end:
forty-seven divided by eleven equals four,
with three remaining.

Three boys beyond their mother’s call,
two Italians off to the sea,
one sock that isn’t anywhere you look.

SOURCE: “Numbers” appears in Mary Cornish‘s collection (Oberlin College Press, 2007), available at Amazon.com.

SOURCE: Poetry (June 2000).

IMAGE: “Counting Circles” by Carol Leigh. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

Image

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Originally an author and illustrator of children’s books, Mary Cornish came to poetry late in life. After a progressive disease struck her drawing hand, Cornish enrolled in the MFA program for creative nonfiction at Sarah Lawrence College, where she soon switched to poetry. Known for its thoughtful investigations of domestic scenes, Cornish’s work also explores the relationships between art, artifice, and the past. Cornish is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow and lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she teaches creative writing at Western Washington University.