Nothing Adds Up in American Math
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
If every crosswalk is an equals sign,
then every block’s an equation
that needs balancing. On Kansas City’s
State Line Road, the median
divides one whole state from another:
this side’s Missouri and that one’s Kansas.
Want proof? You’ll find two Starbucks
kitty-corner, each with different taxes.
K & M have variable trash theories, too:
apparently Kansas takes anything
so Missourians pile up their wagons and head west
with mildewy fridges and gullied mattresses
to dump. It’s All-American math, writ large:
we add and subtract, we go forth and multiply,
we divide and conquer, we raise and raze
and remodel. The signs are everywhere
on a street that zips up miles and miles
of mom and pop shops, that connects country
clubs and cattle country. We show our work
so proudly. But what about the woman
in rags stumbling along the median?
Can you tell me what state she’s in?
How will we divine the answer?
I spied the snake in the middle of shedding:
its former jacket half-attached,
baking and blanching like a corn husk
in August, almost to bone-white.
I got to wondering what it had touched,
this older skin: the underbrush it split, the loose soil
it furrowed, the scalding stones it coiled around
and cooled, soaking in heat from every side...
I've heard it's a painless process, this days-long
unzipping. It's just a surface, they say: the body feels
nothing as it pulls away. Soon the snake will glisten again—
slick and unencumbered; re-striped; ready to race.
I don't know if a goodbye is better fast or slow:
a violent rip, or a subtle sloughing off.
If it's healthier to see the skin go—
a scroll of our lives unfurling, with legible scars—
or to lose pieces of ourselves without knowing:
rushing down the drain with the soap flakes,
gathering as dust on an uncracked book,
swirling in the air when the light is right...
Five million transformations every minute.
First and last impressions raining
all around us. Drier than dry. Weightless
and impossible to carry. Here and gone.