Numbers

By Mary Cornish b. 1948 Mary Cornish
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 mother’s call,
two Italians off to the sea,
one sock that isn't anywhere you look.

Mary Cornish, “Numbers” from Red Studio. Copyright © 2007 by Mary Cornish. Reprinted by permission of Oberlin College Press.

Source: Poetry (June 2000).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the June 2000 issue of Poetry magazine

View this poem in its original format

June 2000

Biography

Originally an author and illustrator of children’s books, Mary Cornish came to poetry late in life. After a progressive disease struck her drawing hand, Cornish enrolled in the MFA program for creative nonfiction at Sarah Lawrence College, where she soon switched to poetry. Known for its thoughtful investigations of domestic scenes, Cornish’s work also explores the relationships between art, artifice, and the past. Cornish is a . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, School & Learning, Arts & Sciences, Sciences

Report a problem with this poem


Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.