Poem | Lower Mathematics

(Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash)

The little boy shouts “To infinity and beyond!”
and asks “Where the heck is infinity?”
and “Is a googol bigger than a gazillion?”
and “How can there be a biggest number?
Doesn’t the whole entire world have room

for 1 or 2 or 3 more?”
and “How can there be something littler than zero?”
She tells him: snowflakes, grains of sand, chess moves,
broken promises, teardrops and raindrops,
stars and universes, seeds in dandelion puffs

floating in a summer breeze. All jumbled together.
He closes his eyes. “I’m trying to see a gazillion
gazelles!” She wonders how math people can talk
to each other when they can’t even agree
on whether a billion is a million millions

or a thousand millions. “False friends,” they say.
She closes her eyes and sees—tears
flowing over broken promises,
becoming part of the air,
drizzling back up into the clouds,
and showering down again next January
in a googol’s worth of raindrops—

plus 1 or 2 or 3.
She doesn’t know what
to tell the boy
about zero.

Published in the January 2021 issue: 

Judy Brackett lives in a small town in the northern Sierra Nevada foothills of California. Her poems have appeared in Epoch, the Maine Review, Catamaran, Commonweal, Midwest Review, the Midwest Quarterly, Subtropics, Crab Orchard Review, and elsewhere. Her poetry chapbook, Flat Water: Nebraska Poems, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2019.

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