Archives for posts with tag: numbers

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I never could stay inside the lines
by Jeanne Ellin

Fifty-five years ago this May, I started my first job. Not with the other girls on the shop floor but penned in solitary in a little office. For £2.50 pence I am not a naturally precise or neat person with no affinity for numbers.

I did the books (very badly) for a repairs factory and the six outlets that took in repairs. Every total had to balance to the nearest 2p. With hurried handwriting a 5 could be confused with a 3 causing many reworkings, no calculators then. The shop and factory wages were also my task. Two men had the same last name and I confused their pay.  Only the one who received less than usual complained.

I also got to do any small errands like fetch dry cleaning for my boss and relieve the cashier from her little metal cage for her lunch break.

My lasting regret, not a sin numbered in any catechism, still haunts me.

I succeeded the woman who’d worked in that office for 45 years.  She took pride in the many ledgers she had filled with her small neat (fitting into tiny squares) figures. All those years never a blot and there were dip-ink pens used, certainly never a crossing out or a covering up. Ever.

She dressed soberly, her only treats were a box of Dairy milk and a Mills and Boon every Friday to sweeten her weekend.

When she retired after a few weeks of tutoring me in her tasks she left her last set of books with several blank pages for me to fill.

I blurred, blotted and overran the squares repeatedly. All those careful years and she handed over to a bored teenager without pride nor interest in her work.

IMAGE: “Blue-02” by Georgia O’Keeffe (1916).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  The prompt was timely, as I am approaching the fifty-fifth anniversary of beginning my first job and welcome the chance to explore that memory. As I am now older than the woman I took over from I see events from both perspectives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeanne Ellin is an-about-to-be  70-year-old woman of mixed heritage endeavouring to live a creative life in a small space with even smaller resources. She has had a textbook on counseling published, as well as poems in numerous anthologies and one collection, Who asks the Caterpillar? (Peepal Tree Press, 2000).

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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.

SOURCE: Poetry (September 2012).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jane Hirshfield is the author of several collections of verse, including Come, Thief (2011), After (2006), shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize, and Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001), a finalist for the National Book Critics Award, among others. Hirshfield has also translated the work of early women poets in collections such as The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan (1990) and Women in Praise of the Sacred: Forty-Three Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women (1994).

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NUMBER MAN
by Carl Sandburg

         (for the ghost of Johann Sebastian Bach)

He was born to wonder about numbers.

He balanced fives against tens
and made them sleep together
and love each other.

He took sixes and sevens
and set them wrangling and fighting
over raw bones.

He woke up twos and fours
out of baby sleep
and touched them back to sleep.

He mananged eights and nines,
gave them prophet beards,
marched them into mists and mountains.

He added all the numbers he knew,
multiplied them by new-found numbers
and called it a prayer of Numbers.

For each of a million cipher silences
he dug up a mate number
for a candle light in the dark.

He knew love numbers, luck numbers,
how the sea and the stars
are made and held by numbers.

He died from the wonder of numbering.
He said good-by as if good-by is a number.

SOURCE: “Number Man” appears in The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg (Harcourt, 1970), available at Amazon.com.

SOURCE: Poetry (October 1947).

IMAGE: J.S. Bach postcard, available at ebay.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) was an American writer and editor, best known for his poetry. He received three Pulitzer Prizes, two for poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln.

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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.

Source: Poetry (September 2012).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jane Hirshfield is the author of several collections of verse, including Come, Thief (2011), After (2006), shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize, and Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001), a finalist for the National Book Critics Award, among others. Hirshfield has also translated the work of early women poets in collections such as The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan (1990) and Women in Praise of the Sacred: Forty-Three Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women (1994).

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NUMBERS
by Jared Harel

My grandmother never trusted calculators.
She would crunch numbers in a spiral notebook
at the kitchen table, watching her news.
Work harder and I’d have more to count,
she’d snap at my father. And so my father worked
harder, fixed more mufflers, gave her receipts

but the numbers seldom changed.
There were silky things my mother wanted,
glorious dinners we could not afford.

Grandma would lecture her: no more garbage,
and so our house was clean. The attic spotless.
In fact, it wasn’t until after she died

that my parents found out how much she had saved us.
What hidden riches had been kept in those notebooks,
invested in bonds, solid blue digits
etched on each page. She left them
in the kitchen by her black and white television
we tossed a week later, though it seemed to work fine.

SOURCE: “Numbers” appears in Jared Harel‘s collection The Body Double (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2012) available at Amazon.com.

SOURCE: Cold Mountain Review, Volume 39, no. 1, Fall 2010.

IMAGE: “Spiral Notebook” by Pam Kennedy. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jared Harel’s poems have appeared in Tin House, The American Poetry Review, The Threepenny Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, Ecotone and elsewhere. His poetry chapbook, The Body Double, was published by Brooklyn Arts Press (2012). He lives in Astoria with his wife and daughter, and plays drums for the NYC-based rock band, The Dust Engineers. Visit him at jaredharel.com.

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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.

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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.