Math Anxiety by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Math Anxiety

I didn’t want anything to do with zero
The hole in the middle could swallow a life
There had to be at least a one in every answer

I counted to a hundred by 11’s until I divorced my hand
which learned to make the circles on the page
but the presence of absence was overwhelming

If two trains left the station at the same time
traveling in opposite directions
I would be abandoned again

Oh why was the math book splitting us up!

Unreal numbers seemed like memories of my mother
slightly beyond my comprehension
just over that line that divides the problem from the solution

Negative numbers were what dead people turned
and would I someday be older than JFK
and did that last forever
if there were to be a heaven and if I went there?

Children lost their oranges beginning in elementary school
and we just watched them

Jane, Jane, you forgot to count yourself, said Dick

Baby birds fell out of nests
How many are left, children?
Write the number in the space.

I put my head down on my desk
mourning the dead sparrows
their little mouths open and crammed with zero

by Elizabeth Kerlikowske

Editor’s note: The jagged lines and disconnected imagery convey a sense of unbalance that perfectly describes the sensation of anxiety.