Jul/Aug 2009 Poetry Special Feature

Intermediate Algebra

by Jennifer Finstrom

Intermediate Algebra

It gives me hope to learn that x
is like a pronoun, standing for what
is not yet named. And that
an algebraic expression is like
a clause, part of a sentence
minus the verb. The verb
is a variation on a single idea:
equal or not equal. More than
or equal to. Less than or equal to.

It is like having to guess a word
in a sentence, the who or the what,
more information concealed
than given. The unknown x pricks
me like a thorn, wounds my hand
as I turn it around for what it
will tell me. It might equal a
poison dart or a bough of lilacs.
A switchblade or a porcelain cup.

Addition and subtraction
are aspects of the same thing:
gift and theft. This sentence
cannot be allowed to meander
and expel its meaning. What is
parenthetical must be dealt
with first. Like terms must be
combined. To say that zero
equals zero is saying nothing.


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