Eileen Tabios Writes Poems Inspired by Her Son’s Math Equations

When I do math with my son I am inspired
to stick an ice pick in one ear to see if it will
come out the other before my head hits the table.
What’s the rate of descent when the table is wobbly
and he pretends his pencil is a gun? Solve.

When I think of math and poetry, I think Rubik’s cube:
6 lines + 9 syllables x 43 quintillion permutations
all leading to failure save for one. Ass in chair
is the common denominator for success,
but if I write X words/day • 365 days,
how many poems will empty the dishwasher
or bring me a 7UP when I’m sick?

Yesterday’s homework was ecology, how our carbon
footprint multiplies 5.7 times for every child born.
I try to calculate the difference for not giving birth,
but what is the coefficient on my psyche for trying
to save myself with someone else’s baby? Or of trying
to save the earth + save for retirement + save 5 more
minutes of time when X = one anxiety attack +
blood pressure spike • frozen waffles for breakfast?

If I cut into my anxiety, will I find it unyielding
like the core of that Rubik’s cube? I know
everything inside me is dying, but is everything
inside me really dying? I die inside a little
every minute I have to wait: for test results,
jobs to end, suns to come up, breaths to be taken
by my once suicidal boy, his bedroom door
like Schrödinger’s box.

Tomorrow, an otolaryngologist will put me under,
run a scope up my sinus to discover the cause
of my constant headaches. I suspect that straight
line through my acute angles will make me
hurt more and provide no answers. A geometry
that will cost me $4,000. Last year I made $40
publishing poems. At this rate, how long
will it take to be whole? Solve.

Cathryn Cofell is an Appleton poetry activist with two full full length collections including “Stick Figure With Skirt,” winner of the 2019 Main Street Rag Poetry Award, six chapbooks, numerous awards, and a music/poetry CD called Lipwww.cathryncofell.com.

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