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Owed to Pedagogy

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For 1995

It was the dead center of summer,
& anyone but us would’ve been
outside hours ago, flailing

like a system of larks against
the hydrant’s icy spray. But a girl
had her orders, & to disobey

our mother was, in a sense, to invite
one’s own destruction, cause to pray
that a god of mercy might strike first.

So we lay, still as stars on the living
room floor, poring over algorithms:
divisors & dividends, quotient

the first synonym for resolution
I ever learned, & would later
come to love for its sound alone,

how it reminded me, even then,
of words like quantum & quotation
mark, both ways of saying nothing

means what you think it means
all the time. The observable
universe hides behind its smooth

obsidian dress, & all we can
do is grasp at it in myths
& figures, see what sticks,

give all our best language
to the void. What dark irony,
these coy, child philosophers,

theorizing how things break
from the floor of a house
where everything is more

or less in flux, indeterminate
as the color of the blood
in a body. Or the speed

at which I learned
to obliterate the distance
between myself

& any given boy
on the block, the optimal
angle of the swing

most likely to drop
another kid cold
in front of his crew,

to square up, square
off, & this too was a kind
of education, the way

my sister held both fists
semi-adjacent, each an inch
or so from her switchblade

eyes, showed me
the stance you take
when the math doesn’t

quite shake out, so it’s just
you & the unknowns
& the unknowns

never win.

Source: Poetry (October 2016)

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This poem originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Poetry magazine

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Owed to Pedagogy

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