Poetry, Writing

Counting by fours

I learned to add and multiply

when I was just a girl.

If school was going poorly

in my mind I'd count by fours.

They're handy tools, those numbers,

they work for math and money.

On family trips my daddy got

a little notebook for me;

he had me write down

everything we spent for

meals and gas and Pepsi-Cola

for postcards sent to Grandma.

In my first job I counted back

the way kids can't today,

made change for people buying candy

and cashed out at shift's end.

I helped my dad record his checks–

he wanted me to know

how much it cost to run a house

the worth of heat and lights

but while curious I did not get

the lesson I believe he meant.

I only knew it seemed he had

a lot of money, and I didn't.

I still count by fours sometimes,

like the fourth-grader in the hall

outside the classroom, in trouble

for some disgrace, real or imagined,

finding safe haven in the times tables.

They always made sense.

I never got much further with math,

stumbled through algebra, geometry

and luckily trigonometry

with a teacher who made sense

just before the SAT test.

Numbers have no play for me,

lack the supple charm of words.

They lay a foundation, firm and square,

four, eight, twelve, sixteen.

Thirty-two. Forty-eight, my age.

Sixty-four: where will I be?

Will I still count by fours?

6 thoughts on “Counting by fours”

  1. I used to try to beat the cash register figuring out change at my first job at the grocery store.
    I was also known to occasionally practice calculus in the margins of my theology classes notebooks when things get too heady, but that is admittedly weird even for number people.
    I think numbers and words each offer something different but valuable to my train of thought.


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