Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Math Poem

[Read Write Poem prompted us to incorporate math into a poem. As I was thinking about math and how I learned it, the following came to me. I think it may be the longest poem I've ever written, but don't let that scare you away. Check out the other mathematical poems here.]

Intersections of Math and Life

Advanced Math class with mostly seniors
was taught by a quiet man
who was also the athletic director
and occasionally had to take a phone call.
I sat behind a farm boy with startling blue eyes
that captured my imagination,
though I never captured his.

Smart kids, with fierce humor,
we used an 8-minute phone call
to re-arranged the room 90 degrees,
moving the teacher's desk to face the windows
and pivoting our columns to rows,
making sure we were all
head-down in our homework when he returned
to stand stock-still in the doorway.
Neither he nor any of us said a word
and the room stayed that way for weeks.

In 1979, we learned math while
6712.7 miles away
66 people were taken hostage,
13 released the same month.

1 more released the next summer
3 months after
8 American soldiers died in a failed rescue attempt.

In 1980 I was one
of seven tracked seniors
in a Calculus class taught by a young woman
who was our student teacher the year before.
Six of us would go to college,
one would not,
but I am jumping ahead - skipping steps -
something I always had trouble with
in mathematic proofs.

We studied limits and derivatives,
and then the integrals that measure
the area under a curve.
We called them "cockroach problems"
because imaging the line as a bug's path
was much more entertaining.
Across the hall, the chemistry teacher
had a free period and was mystified in the quiet
by the occasional cockroach conversations
until we finally clued him in.

Five of us were in band.
Three girls played sports.
Two were boys.
One girl had an after-school job.

Laura and I had the same yellow shirt
and we tried to wear them
in series not

Yellow ribbons covered the country
tied to everything you can imagine
and some things you can't,
a visual vigil for the remaining 52.

They made me think of the POW-MIA bracelet
that a classmate had worn in grade school,
but softer.

The newly-hatched teacher
learned teaching
as she taught math.

Our friendship was strengthened by
dinner at Debbie's house one night,
and pizza at the teacher's place another time,
complete with a spirited game of spoons,
always one fewer spoon than people,
so that the set of those "out" grew
as those "in" dwindled.
The houseplants did survive the night,
but it was a close call.

November's election lined up a new president
and the outgoing one lined up a hostage release.
After 444 days of being held
52 people were freed.

Our tests took time to grade.
The more tangled our logic,
the longer it took to figure out
if we had arrived at the right solutions,
or merely exercised ourselves
in a muddled mathematical morass.

The spring test on integrals was long.
Day 1 - no one finished
and the teacher collected them
to hand back later.
Day 2 - two of us finished early,
then another later -
3 done, 4 still working.
By the end of Day 3,
everyone had finished,
and Miss S began grading.

Every day we asked if she was finished.
She would smile, say, "Not yet," and
move us on to the next topic.

Two weeks later
we got our graded tests back.
To the corner of each was stapled
one yellow ribbon.


Linda Jacobs said...

Oh, this was so worth the read! I was sitting in that classroom with you. And that ending gave me goose bumps!

sister AE said...

Thanks, Linda. I think there is another re-write of this in my future, but I needed to let it go for a while. I'm glad you stuck with it!

gautami tripathy said...

One great narration. I was with you in that classroom. Could see the numbers in form of distance, knw what I mean.

Anonymous said...

I like how you weave in history, friendship, and math. This poem has so much feeling, and evokes a time and place so well. You were a sensitive teenager, who was in tune with the world. Very bright too!

sister AE said...

Hi, Gautami. I'm glad you could see it. Thanks.

Thanks, Cristina. It did seem so entangled so that's how I wrote it.

...deb said...

"stuck with it?"...this is brilliant. I love the back and forth of history - world events that shoook us all - and the numbers a young student faced. The ending with a yellow ribbon completely wowed me.

This is a lovely work. Don't forget about it...

sister AE said...

Thank you, ...deb. With a yellow ribbon to remember, how can I forget? :-)