Calculations

By Linda Hillringhouse

Featured Art by Julia Margaret Cameron

We’re waiting for our copying jobs
at Staples, so she starts chatting me up,
says she’s a retired math teacher.
When I tell her I taught English,
she says that English teachers
are the worst and she always kept
her mouth shut at the book club
because they always wanted
evidence and she just wanted
to talk, have a cup of tea,
what’s the big deal?
And I’m being too nice as usual
making it clear to her I’m not
one of those book bitches.

Now I’m hearing about the math museum
in New York and I can tell she wants someone
to go with. I’m brainstorming excuses
but it’s my turn to say something so I say
how much I like zeros and that I even
tried to read a book about them.

Now she’s telling me how she used to prove
to her students that she can get 2 to equal 1
and keeps saying, Let A=B and it’s like
God’s saying it, but now she’s saying, Anything
can be anything and this is starting to sound
like patent bullshit and she’s droning on

and I’m so glazed out I can only nod and say hmmm
like I’m Bertrand Russell finally grasping the true nature
of mathematics when all she wants is some tea and company
and it’s her bad luck that it had to be me she ran into,
the Queen of Zero.


Linda Hillringhouse was a first-place winner of the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award (2014) and second-place winner of Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry (2012). Her work has appeared in Lips, Nimrod, Paterson Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from the Macdowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her book of poetry, The Things I Didn’t Know to Wish For, was published by NYQ Press in May, 2020.

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