“Numbers” by Mary Cornish
Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools, Hosted by Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2001-2003
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 mothers' call, two Italians off to the sea, one sock that isn't anywhere you look.
from Poetry magazine
Volume CLXXVI, Number 3, June 2000
Copyright 2000 by The Modern Poetry Association.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of The Modern Poetry Association. For further permissions information, contact Mary Cornish, PO Box 15667, Stanford, CA 94309-5667 or Poetry, 60 West Walton Street, Chicago, IL 60610 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Poet
Mary Cornish (1948- ), a former children’s book illustrator, is the author of the poetry collection Red Studio (Oberlin College Press, 2007). Originally an author and illustrator of children’s books, Mary Cornish came to poetry late in life.
Learn more about Mary Cornish at The Poetry Foundation.