“The Mathematician,” a Rumpus Original Poem by Carl Adamshick


The Mathematician

She’s taken to sleeping late.

Only recently have I come to stare
on her as phenomenon.

Solid, almost vaporous in sheer morning light.
I’m obsessed, after thirty years,
how her mind keeps things,
how her body stores, how the runnels and rills
operate, how they order.


Simon was pulled from her. A birth like theft.

A numb seam opposite her spine,
a bright ridge that reddens
when she sinks into the bath. Her reminder.
A mark more violent
than the navel. This is how you no longer live.

Naked. Unbelievably naked.

Each morning she sublimates into fluidity

but for hours I just watch.
A severe meandering. I see her life and then can’t
say it. Painstaking and then lost.
Serene then helpless.
And when my mind is unable to focus

I get up and look from the other side of the room.




What I do is calculate.
I’ve always seen the world as numbers,
buildings and trees factors,
math as a language better suited for explaining
how things work
than the formula of grammar.

The rate of explosions, the intake of air,
angles, velocities, pounds
of pressure, the probability of the atmosphere
to ignite. It can be any equation
and I see

the solution as reality etched with numbers
on each flame, mortar and brick,
on the tip of blue feathers in flight
and, slowly,
the page fills with a scrawling transcription.

Her heart could house a cathedral.




She told me her dreams
are water and bone, grief, ash and mold.

She is fifty-four.
Gray strands tangle in the white bedding.
How do you collect the details of her,
the creases that lay by the eye?

Painters could spend months on the curve
of her arm when it’s stretched
over her head, hand on the pillow,
armpit exposed.

A thousand sketches before color is contemplated.

In 1910 she spent her summer
walking a cold riverbed buried in noon shade.

She watched her father hang black men
from a trestle, watched her mother watch,
saw her brother playing in the dirt.

I think of her as a fugue,
as relief in metal, as a chamber
comprehending music,
as a monument people touch in winter.

A knee is bent. Her body crosses
and re-crosses itself. The hinge of her elbow.
The desk by the window has a tall,

thin, unlit candle
and a wooden bowl that holds nothing.

How do you understand this in observation?

She is not math.




If I could press my thumb to the arch of her foot
and convince her,
if I could trace the line of her calf, thigh,
hard rise of her hip,
to show her that the living are not monsters,
that we act out of necessity, I would,

but to her,
the guilty live and the dead become sovereign,
exalted, protected from change.

She is in the act of forgetting
why the light was made to overtake their bodies.



We came together like music
that should never be forgotten.

Acute, concerned, coupling

technology and foresight,
we invented whatever was needed.
The sound of a nation
at industry, shaping planes by the thousands.

Around the clock
we riveted, heated, bent a massive undertaking
to our will.
It was beauty, unwavering brilliance
that sped us to accomplishment.

If you watch
you know sunflowers turn with the day,
that ants always rebuild their hills
in the sidewalk cracks. If you watch you know
minutes, seconds, time itself is decision.
My life has been in front of her everyday.

I recall evenings we lingered in the cool tub
not wanting
to wallow in the burdensome heat,
days we drove to blooming cherry, dogwood.

I know death is a friend

you can feel sorry with,
but she was not blind to my job.

She knew and lived with the recognition
and now cannot claim to have known,

within our days, other days.
It’s been five weeks since Hiroshima.
I never wake her.
I don’t want this to ruin us.

Carl Adamshick

Read the Rumpus Interview with Carl Adamshick.

Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →