Poem | Math Drills

In Friday’s class, we expand binomials into gasps—
meaning we calculate trajectories of moving objects

& analyze the chances of touching death,
then living instead. The numbers, small scribbles,

weigh heavy like lead & I wonder why they cannot
be swallowed. Our bodies are nestled together

in the classroom corner: doors locked, lights killed,
hearts pulsing. The girl beside me has been chased

too many times by wailing alarms. She remembers
code red better than the formula for volume.

Our heads are all bent in shame, tucked below desks
to wait for a bedtime story. Sometimes we are afraid

of being lost to bullet holes. We are afraid of our voices
becoming static under the hold of a trigger. We are

afraid that our parents will see us one day on television:
limbs heaped over each other, syrup-drenched, becoming pixels

that flit across the screen. My mother wonders whether she was right
to cross the seas. She knows that brown bodies in the news

are more often dead than alive. An announcement washes
over the school: the drill is over, we are free to return

to normal learning. We freeze, wary of every promise
of safety. This is how we have been taught. We

are afraid that our nightmares will come true before
our dreams. We are afraid of addition: body + bullet.

Published in the October 2020 issue: 
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Uma Menon is a seventeen-year-old author from Winter Park, Florida. Her debut book, Hands for Language, was released by Mawenzi House in 2020. She is the 2019-2020 Youth Fellow for the International Human Rights Art Festival and attends Princeton University. Read more at theumamenon.com.

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