In case there were any gaps left to the many arguments on behalf of poetry, some claiming it has utility of various sorts, not the least of which ought to be uplifting one’s sour mood, I submit this poem by Mary Cornish, who started out as a children’s book illustrator until her hand could no longer draw, at which point, later in life, she began writing poetry. This succeeded, at least with me, in changing my mood, which is saying a lot, plus I was attracted to the title since I love Numbers, but not so much for their utility as for their qualities outside of the box.
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
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 mothers’ call,
two Italians off to the sea,
one sock that isn’t anywhere you look.
By Mary Cornish