“I like the generosity of numbers…”

By Catherine Keefe

I always hated numbers, despised their precision, their insistence on creating a definitive right answer or wrong guess. How many jellybeans in the jar? How much money in the bank? How many hours in a day?

I’d rather live in the ‘ish, a realm my body understand better than calculators.

DSC00296A clatter of red lacquer shutters.
Firework bursts of flower petals.
A cacophony of tilted bicycles.
This means more to me than the single number 4 plastered onto one black lamppost in Delft.

I hated the constriction of numbers until I reconsidered them through poetry. When I started The August Break project I didn’t define the number of hours I’d spend on the project, or establish the number of posts I’d participate in. Rather I promised myself fluid time to investigate concepts through images and poetry.

Today that exploration led me to discover poet Mary Cornish, a poet whose words I never would have met if I hadn’t ignored the definitive number of days left in summer before I must return to teaching with a prepared syllabus. According to Mary Cornish’s official biography at Poetry Foundation, she “came to poetry late in life.” (There’s that number thinking again.) Her poetry is, “Known for its thoughtful investigations of domestic scenes…explores the relationships between art, artifice, and the past.” Here’s an excerpt:

Numbers

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.

Today, I reconsider my relationship to numbers. Maybe you’ll open yourself up to a new possibility too as you remember to count your blessings and number your gifts.

You can read the entire text of Mary Cornish’s “Numbers” poem here, or take a 2-minute video break and watch the poem here:


For more “Numbers” images from The August Break project, search #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

~Catherine

4 thoughts on ““I like the generosity of numbers…”

  1. Thanks for sharing! What a lovely poem by Mary Cornish — it has given me ideas for a number-related poetry project for my students when National Poetry Month rolls around again and I aim to devote at least a day or two in my math classes to writing poetry. The natural (counting) numbers are such a sweet and earthy comfort in her poem. But math has it’s wild side, too. The irrationals! Imaginary numbers! Infinities of varying sizes! 🙂

    • I’m glad you found inspiration for lesson plans, Mobi. It sounds as if your students are lucky to have you guide them through the “earthy comfort” and “wild side” of numbers. I’m grateful to have discovered Mary Cornish and happy to have shared her work with a receptive reader.

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