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?